by Bob Graham / Evening Standard (London) –
BAGHDAD (July 29, 2003) — British troops have been flown home from Iraq as casualties of the desert heat with many of them claiming their equipment is not good enough to handle the intense conditions.
The Ministry of Defence admitted today its soldiers are falling “at the rate of three a day” from temperature related problems. But a spokesman claimed the situation in the Basra region (by far the hottest and most humid in Iraq) had improved because a few weeks ago soldiers were going down at the rate of 10 a day from heat exhaustion.
The MoD said today it is doing what it can to improve the conditions of servicemen and women in Iraq where temperatures are hitting up to 55 degrees Celsius [120 F].
A number of soldiers from units within 19 Brigade have claimed troops were without basic welfare including air-conditioning and cool water and were using fly-infested lavatories.
There are 11,000 UK servicemen and women in southern Iraq. Some have complained that basic facilities had remained the same since the war, even though temperatures had soared.
One corporal said: “If you can’t sleep because of the heat, your efficiency and general health decline rapidly. People are in a state of collapse after three or four days. Most of us are still ‘bird bathing’ in water from bowser trucks poured into metal or plastic basins.”
The MoD said the living conditions of troops in the Gulf was a serious issue. A spokeswoman said: “Given the intensity of the heat out there, we are doing our very best to improve conditions for our troops to ensure that they acclimatise to the heat.” She said the military was “constantly trying to improve living conditions”.
Personnel from units within 19 Brigade, which took over from the Desert Rats of the 1st UK Armoured Division in Basra last month, have complained about the lack of basic welfare for the soldiers patrolling the streets of Iraq’s second city.
Concerns include tents with no airconditioning, having to drink “blood-temperature” bottled water and filthy chemical lavatories.
While the cash-strapped Czech Republic has provided its military police detachment under UK command with cooled sleeping quarters and cold drinks, British troops are suffering exhaustion from being unable to sleep.
Another corporal said: “We came last month to replace the Parachute Regiment but they had a long period to acclimatise. We had 10 days in Kuwait.”