Three British soldiers in Iraq have been ordered home after objecting tothe conduct of the war. It is understood they have been sent home for protesting that the war is killing innocent civilians.

The three soldiers – including a private and a technician – are from 16 Air Assault Brigade which is deployed in southern Iraq. Its task has been to protect oilfields.

The brigade includes the Ist and 3rd battalions of the Parachute Regiment, the 1st battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment, a Royal Horse Artillery regiment, and a reconnaissance squadron of the Household Cavalry.

The three soldiers, based in Colchester, Essex, face court martial and are seeking legal advice, defence sources said yesterday.

The Ministry of Defence said it was not prepared to comment on individual cases. It said it had “no evidence” to suggest the soldiers had been sent home for refusing to fight.

Soldiers could be returned home for a number of reasons, including compassionate and medical, as well as disciplinary grounds, defence sources said.

But it is understood that the three soldiers have been sent home for complaining about the way the war is being fought and the growing danger to civilians.

The fact that they are seeking legal advice makes it clear they have been sent home for refusing to obey orders rather than because of any medical or related problems such as shell shock.

MoD lawyers were understood last night to be anxiously trying to discover the circumstances surrounding the order to send the soldiers home.

Any refusal of soldiers to obey orders is highly embarrassing to the government, with ministers becoming increasingly worried about the way the war is developing.

It is also causing concern to British military chiefs who are worried about growing evidence of civilians being killed in fighting involving American soldiers around urban areas in southern Iraq.