British troops shamed

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The Ministry of Defence was last night forced to announce an investigation after photographs showing British soldiers beating and urinating on an Iraqi prisoner were published.

The Ministry of Defence was last night forced to announce an investigation after photographs showing British soldiers beating and urinating on an Iraqi prisoner were published.

The pictures, coming the day after US troops were revealed to have maltreated Iraqi detainees, show British soldiers beating the man with their rifle butts. He was reportedly arrested for theft.

Their victim is said to have been left bleeding and vomiting, with a broken jaw and smashed teeth, after an eight-hour ordeal. During it, he was apparently threatened with summary execution.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, serving soldiers told the Daily Mirror that the unnamed captive, against whom no charges were brought, was dumped from the back of a moving vehicle at the end of his torture. It is not known whether he survived.

The army's most senior officer, Chief of General Staff General Sir Michael Jackson, said last night that an investigation into the soldiers' "appalling conduct" had been ordered. A statement from Downing Street said the allegations were being treated "seriously".

The revelation that British soldiers may have been involved in torturing Iraqi detainees comes a day after the publication of a video of US troops abusing naked and hooded Iraqi prisoners. Still images taken from the video showed a hooded captive standing on a box with wires attached to his hands, and naked prisoners stacked in a human pyramid while US troops laughed.

Those photographs brought worldwide revulsion and condemnations from Tony Blair and President George Bush.

The latest images are reported to have been sent to the Mirror by serving soldiers from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment. They told the paper they were horrified by the torture and concerned that "rogue elements" in the Army were undermining attempts to win support from local people in British-administered southern Iraq.

The soldiers said they were making the photos public to show why the US-UK coalition was encountering such fierce resistance in Iraq.

General Sir Michael said: "I am aware of the allegations which have been made today of the abuse of prisoners by British soldiers in Iraq. If proven, not only is such appalling conduct clearly unlawful, it also contravenes the British Army's high standards.

"All allegations are under investigation. If proven, the perpetrators are not fit to wear the Queen's uniform. They have besmirched the good name of the Army and its honour."

General Sir Michael said: "Most emphatically, the British Army should not be judged by the reprehensible ill-discipline of a few soldiers who, by their shameful behaviour, have let down those tens of thousands of British soldiers who have worked, and still do, in difficult and dangerous conditions in the most commendable way, in particular in Iraq, where their sole purpose is to help the Iraqis to a new and better future."

A No 10 spokesman said: "The Prime Minister fully endorses both the statement by General Sir Michael Jackson and the action he is taking. The Prime Minister agreed that allegations of this nature are treated seriously, but they should not be taken as a reflection of the general behaviour of coalition forces and the work they are doing with the Iraqi people."

Michael Ancram, Shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "These allegations are most serious. If the alleged conduct is true, it is wholly unacceptable and damaging. The Government must conduct an in-depth inquiry and take appropriate action."

At least five cases of mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by British soldiers are believed to have been investigated by the Royal Military Police.

Two months ago, the Ministry of Defence admitted to paying £8,100 to the families of three men who died in British custody but denied an admission that abuse had happened. The family of one of the men, Baha Dawud al-Maliki, claimed he had died due to internal injuries after his arrest by members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment at the Ibn al-Haytham Hotel in Basra in September.

In addition to the September incident, the British Army is investigating the deaths of two men detained by the Black Watch during a search operation near Basra in May. One of the men, Abd al-Jabbar Mossa, 53, was said to have died of heart failure soon after his arrest. His family claimed he was hit on the head while being detained. The second, Rathy Namma, was said to have suffered a heart attack.

In a third incident, a trooper from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was alleged to have been found with photographs of an Iraqi PoW hanging from netting on a forklift truck driven by a British soldier. Other photographs show prisoners being forced to simulate sex acts.

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