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Dr Lepping has expressed strong views on the plight of the Iraqi civilians who have suffered tragic and devastating casualties in the conflict that has followed the war in Iraq. Our paper was not attempting to belittle their suffering or to make excuses for the political ideologies behind the conflict; rather we examined the mental health of UK military personnel who had been deployed to Iraq in the line of duty.

With the exception of Professor Simon Wessely (who is an unpaid Honorary Civilian Consultant Advisor in Psychiatry to the Director General of the Army Medical Services), all of the authors are either civilian or uniformed members of the Defence Medical Services. As such, it is our duty and privilege (along with our many colleagues) to look after the mental health needs of the servicewomen and men of the UK's Armed Forces to the best of our ability. It is these professional sailors, soldiers and aviators (both full-time and reservist) who are mobilised by our government to go to war on behalf of the country for whatever purpose. Their going to war is distinct from those civilian inhabitants of war zones who of course do not choose to ‘go to’ war but who inevitably suffer the consequences of warfare and armed conflict.

The effects of war on civilian populations have been extensively investigated and published elsewhere (Horton, 2004; Roberts et al, 2004) and, although continued investigation of the health needs of civilians caught up in war is indeed pressing, our paper concerned itself solely with the mental health of those professional soldiers who are called upon to fight.

The conclusion of the study was that, for a highly prepared elite group of soldiers involved in war fighting in Iraq, there was a positive effect on soldiers' mental health, at least in the short term. In that context, the title of the short report was, in our opinion, highly appropriate.

EDITED BY KIRIAKOS XENITIDIS and COLIN CAMPBELL

Declaration of interest J.H.H., F.C., R.E. and M.D. are employed by the UK Defence Medical Services. S.W. is an unpaid Honorary Civilian Consultant Advisor in Psychiatry to the Director General of the Army Medical Services.

Horton, R. (2004) The war in Iraq: civilian casualties, political responsibilities. Lancet, 364, 1831.
Roberts, L., Lafta, R., Garfield, R., et al (2004) Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey. Lancet, 364, 18571864.