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Officials from the Commonwealth war graves commission have just arrived in Iraq to assess the damage done by 20 years of upheaval - and many more years of decay - to the 13 war cemeteries the commission tends there. The new headstones are the first phase of a major programme: Many of these deaths were the result of the decision to attack Baghdad, and in particular of what happened in a loop of the Tigris river at Kut-al-Amara. On November 22 , General Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend and his force of about 9, men of the 6th Indian division were advancing on Baghdad by boat along the Tigris, the land being roadless - an "arid billiard table".
At Ctesiphon, about 20 miles short of the capital, the Indian and British troops came up against a larger, better armed and better supplied Turkish force which had had months to dig in on both sides of the river. Unable to withstand a counter-attack, let alone continue the advance, Townshend retreated back down the Tigris, with 1, Turkish prisoners and more than 4, wounded from both sides.
The long, slow journey was nightmarish for the wounded, for Townshend had been kept short of boats and medical supplies by a stingy government in India.
An over-optimistic superior, Sir John Nixon, had ordained that the men would find all they needed - in Baghdad. Collecting other troops as he inched along, Townshend made his stand at Kut, a strategic river junction he had captured a month previously.
It had been one of a number of cheap and brilliant victories by a clever and resourceful soldier who knew the value of morale, and until the end kept the respect of his men. He had argued all along against going on to Baghdad; he lacked sufficient men, food and artillery as well as river transport and medical back-up. But the general and his men were to be the victims of their own success. The invasion of Mesopotamia itself was about oil, but that required only a landing on the Gulf coast to secure the southern part of the country around Basra.