Video Appears to Show Britons Abusing Young Iraqis

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 13, 2006

BAGHDAD, Feb. 12 -- A video released Sunday by a London tabloid shows what appear to be British soldiers head-butting, kicking and clubbing unarmed Iraqi teenagers as an off-camera voice laughs and taunts the victims.

The footage, described by the News of the World in its Sunday edition and linked to the paper's Web site, was shot from the observation tower of a compound in southern Iraq during a series of street demonstrations in early 2004, the newspaper reported.

Eight soldiers in riot gear and army uniforms can be seen dragging four boys or young men into the courtyard of a walled compound, wrestling them to the ground and battering them with more than 40 blows over a two-minute period. The teenagers offer little resistance and occasionally cry out, "No, please!"

As the beatings escalate, a man with a British accent can be heard urging the soldiers on, yelling, "Oh, yes! Oh, yes! You're gonna get it. Yes! Naughty little boys," then laughing and uttering expletives.

If determined to be authentic, the footage would be the most graphic visual depiction of abuse by coalition forces since the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal, when photographs taken the previous year by American soldiers at a prison west of Baghdad showed detainees stripped naked, forced to assume degrading positions and being terrorized by German shepherds.

A British military spokesman in the southern city of Basra said the tape had prompted the country's Defense Ministry to order an "urgent investigation" by the Royal Military Police.

"We are aware of the very serious allegations and obviously condemn all acts of abuse and brutality," said Maj. Peter Cripps, a British military spokesman in Basra. "British troops are not above the law."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is traveling in South Africa, said, "We take seriously any allegation of mistreatment, and these will be investigated very fully indeed," the BBC reported. "The overwhelming majority of British troops in Iraq, as elsewhere, behave properly and are doing a great job for our country and for the wider world," Blair said.

News of the World said the video was made by a British army corporal and provided to the newspaper by a "disgusted whistleblower" after it had circulated on a military base in Europe. The newspaper reported that the teenagers were beaten after they threw a homemade grenade and rocks at the soldiers. The report also said that the footage shows a soldier drawing back the blanket covering a dead Iraqi and kicking him twice, although that segment was not on the Web site.

This is not the first allegation of detainee abuse by British troops in Iraq. A year ago, British newspapers published photographs showing soldiers at Camp Breadbasket, near Basra, stepping on Iraqi prisoners, preparing to punch them and suspending one from the prongs of a forklift. Three soldiers were dismissed from the army and imprisoned in connection with the case.

In other cases, images of detainee abuse by British troops turned out to have been faked. In May 2004, London's Daily Mirror printed several photographs that appeared to depict abuse, including one showing a soldier urinating on a prisoner. Two weeks later, the tabloid's editor was fired when experts concluded the images had been doctored.

The treatment of detainees in Iraq is among the most politically sensitive issues facing Iraqi and coalition officials. Leaders of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, whose members make up the bulk of the country's insurgency, have repeatedly condemned what they say is systemic torture and abuse by Iraq's security forces.

In November, U.S. soldiers found evidence of brutal beatings and other abuse when they raided a prison run by Iraq's Interior Ministry. Weeks later, the existence of another such facility was disclosed.

Relations have been strained between the more than 8,000 British troops in southern Iraq and local residents, politicians and police. Attacks against the British have escalated in recent months, pushing the number killed in Iraq past 100 and intensifying calls in Britain for the force's withdrawal.

Last month, angry street rallies broke out in Basra after British troops arrested 14 members of the local police force -- many of whom remain loyal to powerful Shiite Muslim militias.

"We will be working hard with the political and religious leaders to try to put the video into context so it doesn't undo our hard work," said Cripps, the military spokesman in Basra. "Remember, over 80,000 British service men and women have served in Iraq since the beginning of the military operations, and only a tiny number are alleged to be involved in incidents of deliberate abuse."

Correspondent Mary Jordan in London contributed to this report.

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