The head of the British Army is calling for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq "soon".

In this morning's Daily Mail, General Sir Richard Dannatt says Britain's presence in the country was exacerbating security problems.

"I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them," he said.

Sir Richard, who became Chief of the General Staff in August, said we should "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems".

He told the paper: "We are in a Muslim country and Muslims' views of foreigners in their country are quite clear.

"As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited in a country, but we weren't invited certainly by those in Iraq at the time.

"The military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in. Whatever consent we may have had in the first place, may have turned to tolerance and has largely turned to intolerance."

Sir Richard, a graduate of Durham University, described the post-war planning as poor and based on an optimistic analysis of the situation.

And he suggested the idea that Britain and the US could create a liberal democracy in Iraq that would have a stabilising effect on the Middle East was naive.

Sir Richard's comments were welcomed by anti-war campaigners.

"He has articulated what we have been saying for a long period now - that the presence of the British forces is exacerbating the security problems in Iraq itself," said Andrew Burgin, of the Stop the War Coalition.

Reg Keys' son, Thomas, was murdered in 2003 by a gang of Iraqi men.

Five other Royal Military Police officers, including three from the North-East, also died in the attack.

Mr Keys said he agreed 100 per cent with the comments that Sir Richard had made.

He added: "Iraq is in complete meltdown, which means my son technically died for nothing. He died serving his country, which I'm proud of, but he did not die defending his country."

Rose Gentle, whose son, Gordon, was killed in Iraq two years ago, said she was overjoyed to hear Sir Richard's comments.

She said: "I hope Tony Blair sees sense now and brings our boys home, because it's their lives that are in danger."

But a Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We have a clear strategy in Iraq. We are there with our international partners, in support of the democratically elected Government of Iraq, under a clear UN mandate."

The ministry's position was later reiterated by a Downing Street spokesman.

Shadow Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said the coming days and weeks would show if Sir Richard's opinions reflected Government thinking.

He told BBC News 24: "We have always known that our presence on the ground will be used by fundamentalists and men of violence to recruit people into their ways."

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said Government policy on Iraq was "collapsing". He said: "There is a desperate need for a new strategy led not by the US, but by the UN, providing for a peace process with a reinvigorated reconstruction programme and concerted international and regional engagement."