As if British troops in Iraq didn't have enough to worry about, a new crisis emerged yesterday that could seriously undermine their safety, and that of Iraqi citizens.
A leaked memo has raised tangible doubts about the suitability of weapons and equipment being used by the Army in the south of the country. Having admitted that the enormous cost of day-to-day operations is crippling the Labour Party expenses account, the government is now in hot water over, what has been dubbed, the "Weapons of Mass Production" scandal.
The weapons concerned are, in fact, replica models produced in huge factories by toy and game manufacturers, and are next to useless in combat situations.
Although extremely lightweight, the standard issue "Commando Rifle", produced in China by MB Games, (PAT No. 0003164D), fires no bullets, merely making the sound of a gun being fired. The Lone Star pistol has similar attributes, although 'caps' can be used with it, to really scare the enemy.
One young recruit was found wandering around the streets of South Basra with the plastic 'Ranchero' cowboy rifle. He told a horror story of how a group of Iraqi men had laughed at him and "ruffled his hair".
Another toy manufacturer, Tonka, has provided several all-terrain vehicles in conspicuous yellow, and these have become easy pickings for insurgents who have placed large stones on the roads to test the durability of the vehicles. One such truck was toppled over, causing much laughter amongst the troops being carried. The chuckling insurgents who were hidden in a roadside ditch were warned over their irresponsible act.
Jack Straw has defended the government against criticism by saying: "These toys are of the highest quality and are indistinguishable from the genuine articles, which we cannot afford. The only major difference between these replicas and real guns, is that they don't fire live rounds."
General Grievous, military commander of the forces in the South, told reporters at a press conference that when extra recruits had been requested, sixteen boxes had arrived from Mattel containing more than 2000 Action Men, some with realistic hair and beards.
"What a shabby lot they were", he said. "The men played with them for a bit, but they quickly became tired of them. They preferred throwing the plastic grenades around. They had some real fun with those!"
Prime Minister Tony Blair was unavailable for comment, as he was practicing his ridiculous nailed-on grin at Downing Street.