Colonel's accuser is traffic policeman

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The American soldier who accused a British Army colonel of war crimes in Iraq was named yesterday as Major Re Baistre, a reservist in the US Marines. Major Baistre, 37, is a part-time traffic policeman and school counsellor, whose unit, the 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion, was assigned to the British 16th Air Assault Brigade.

The Ministry of Defence has opened an investigation after Colonel Tim Collins, of the Royal Irish Regiment, was accused of pistol-whipping a prisoner, staging a mock execution and denying food to prisoners. But reports yesterday suggested the MoD was ready to throw out the allegations.

Major Baistre is also said to have accused the British Army of displaying open hostility towards US forces. His sworn statement said British officers questioned the need for the war, said the British public did not support military action and portrayed President George Bush as a "cowboy" and Tony Blair as his "puppet". He admits he did not see mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners first hand.

Supporters of Colonel Collins, 43,say the allegations are motivated by revenge after Major Baistre was given a dressing-down by Colonel Collins for handing lollipops to Iraqi children. "He screamed at me, 'What the f*** do you think you are doing'," Major Baistre claimed. "I asked him who he was. He screamed as loud as he could he was Lieutenant-Colonel Collins of the Royal Irish."

Col Collins is said to have been concerned for the safety of the children and is vigorously defending his innocence over the war crimes allegations.

Major Baistre's commander, Major Stan Coerr, does not support him. He said: "This guy has an axe to grind because Colonel Tim embarrassed him in front of his troops."

Ministry of Defence sources have been quoted as saying Col Collins will be "completely exonorated". But an MoD spokeswoman could not confirm or deny these claims.

"The investigation is continuing," she said.

¿ British troops have disbanded Basra's city council, because the local leader, Sheikh Muzahem al-Tamimi, is accused by many Iraqis of having close links to Saddam Hussein.

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