Iraq continued to make headlines in late October, the majority of it unwelcome to its liberators. News of further kidnappings, ongoing violence and even a near-mutiny among coalition forces have provided further ammunition to critics of UK and US government policies.

With presidential elections looming, the issue continues to dominate political debate in the US. President Bush has struggled to fend off increasingly vitriolic attacks from his main rival John Kerry. The Democrat candidate, in his latest tirade on 21 October, accused the president of ‘mishandling’ the conflict and ‘lacking leadership’. The criticism came after reports from Baghdad of a mini-mutiny by US troops. The commander of the 343rd Quartermaster Company resigned her position on 21 October after reports that 18 soldiers under her command refused to drive a fuel convoy from Tallil air base near Nasiriyah to Taji, north of the capital. The soldiers claimed that their vehicles were in poor condition and ill-equipped to face the dangers they might face along the route.

Such is the overstretch on US forces that UK troops based in the south of the country around Basra have been asked to cover American positions closer to Baghdad. The call for help from a close ally has placed UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in an uncomfortable position. Already facing criticism over the recent beheading of hostage Kenneth Bigley, Blair is now being asked to redeploy troops into a more dangerous area. Both main opposition parties are against the move, and the premier is under intense pressure even from his own party members to resist Washington’s request.

The kidnapping on 19 October of aid worker Margaret Hassan has added to Blair’s woes. A joint British-Iraqi national, Hassan headed Care International’s local operations and has lived in Iraq for more than 30 years. Coming so soon after Bigley’s execution, the most recent hostage crisis has put the prime minister in another awkward situation.