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  After Saddam

Mirror: Is the British Army a fake?

In what appears to be a tit-for-tat move the Daily Mirror, an alleged newspaper of no fixed opinion, has claimed that what the government purports to be the British army may, in fact, be a fake.

The claim is the latest salvo in a war of words that erupted over the weekend when the Mirror published what it claimed were photographs of what it claimed were British troops mistreating what it claimed were Iraqi prisoners. The army quickly countered with a claim that the photographs are fakes, citing as alleged evidence what it claimed were inconsistencies in the uniforms, weapons and vehicles of the alleged troops.

However, the Mirror insists that the photographs are genuine and has made the stunning counter-claim that the entire British army may be fake. An article by Douglas Ramsbottom, a Mirror hack of no fixed reputation, challenges many of the public's notions of the alleged army.

In the article, Mr Ramsbottom questions whether all those alleged British troops we see from time to time, both in person and on television, are really troops, and not out-of-work actors left over from some film set or other. He notes that their activities are usually shrouded in secrecy. "You see them swanning about on Salisbury Plain," he says, "but what is it they're actually doing there?" There is no solid evidence, he claims, that they are defending the realm, and he suggests that they are merely provided by the government to dupe the public into believing that it is being protected.

The clinching argument, according to Mr Ramsbottom's thesis, is the presence in the UK of a large US occupation force. Why, he asks, would that allow a real British army to exist alongside it? That would be too much of a challenge to the US force's sovereignty in the UK, he suggests.

Asked by reporters for a comment Secretary of State for Defence Geoff "Buff" Hoon appeared to be unaware of the Mirror's latest allegation, or indeed of the alleged photographs, and this prompted Michael Howard, the current interim leader of the Conservative Party, to call for an investigation into whether or not Mr Hoon is himself fake.

A Downing Street spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied that Prime Minister Blair, citing the so-called Bush Doctrine, has ordered the alleged army to draw up a plan for a pre-emptive strike against both the alleged Mirror and the alleged Mr Howard.

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