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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 September, 2003, 11:58 GMT 12:58 UK
Fears over troops' training
British troops
More troops are likely to be announced next week
British troops being sent to Iraq may not be getting the training they need, the commander of UK soldiers during the first Gulf War has warned.

Major General Sir Patrick Cordingley raised his concerns as 50 extra soldiers were flown to Iraq - taking the total reinforcements dispatched this weekend to more than 100.

General Cordingley said the soldiers may not be properly prepared because the armed forces are being stretched by peacekeeping demands around the world.

His comments came as ex-minister Clare Short launched an attack on the government for its handling of the Dr David Kelly affair.

She accused Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence of an "abuse of power" that put the weapons expert under intolerable pressure.

Guarding pipelines

Speaking on BBC1's Breakfast With Frost, Major Cordingley said: "The more people who get absorbed, I think there are something like 45,000 troops involved in operations at the moment, the less time you have to train them.

"So you very soon get to a stage where your army isn't trained properly, and that's the real problem."

He said the aim was to have soldiers trained to be able to fight and then switch to peacekeeping duties.

The reinforcements sent to Iraq on Sunday are part of the second battalion light infantry based in Cyprus.

They landed at Basra airport at 0330 local time (1230 BST).

Their duties are likely to include guarding oil pipelines in the south of Iraq.

It is thought the Ministry of Defence will announce on Monday that up to 3,000 more British troops will be sent to Iraq.

Beneath the smiling demeanour, a ruthlessness that is accompanied by a lack of respect for proper procedure, and a willingness to be economical with the actuality
Clare Short

The move follows the failure of the coalition to stabilise the security situation in Iraq, with major bombs having claimed dozens of lives and attacks on British and American soldiers a routine occurrence.

In the coming weeks most of the second battalion will travel to Iraq.

About 40 vehicles from the unit are already in the country, having travelled by sea a few weeks ago.

Nearly half the British Army presence in Cyprus will be switched to duties in Iraq for the next few months.

Battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Peter Davies said his men were ideal for the role.

"We conduct internal security operations here, obviously not of the intensity or level they are being conducted in Iraq at the moment," he said.

"We conduct public order training. Above all we are acclimatised, more so than we would be if we were in the UK."

'Smiling demeanour'

Launching an attack on the government's handling of the Dr Kelly affair, Ms Short said the arms expert's life had been made "hell" by Downing Street, the MoD, Joint Intelligence Committee chairman John Scarlett and MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

She also said Tony Blair could be "economical with the actuality", inferring that he did not always tell the full truth.

Writing in the Independent on Sunday, Ms Short said: "We have a prime minister so focused on presentation that there is inadequate consideration of the merits of policy.

"Beneath the smiling demeanour, a ruthlessness that is accompanied by a lack of respect for proper procedure, and a willingness to be economical with the actuality."

Ms Short said Andrew Gilligan's Today programme story that Downing Street had exaggerated the dossier on Iraq's weapons was "fundamentally true".

She added: "Dr Kelly found the pressure of No 10, the Ministry of Defence, the chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the threat to his position and job, and 'being treated like a fly' too much to bear.

"Most people would break under that strain."

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