During its eight-year war with Iran, Iraq routinely mistreated its prisoners of war and disregarded international standards for their imprisonment, according to human rights groups and the United Nations.

"Physical violence appeared to be particularly common in POW camps in Iraq," a team commissioned by the U.N. secretary general to investigate POW treatment reported in 1985. The team returned to the camps in 1988 and found that conditions and treatment had improved.

"The allegations most frequently heard related to blows on the head and other beatings with batons, truncheons or wire cables," the 1985 report noted. POWs said "torture was frequently employed there either as punishment, in order to extract information, or simply for purposes of intimidation."

Since the Persian Gulf War began Jan. 17, 14 U.S. pilots have been listed as missing in action. Five of those were seen on Iraqi television this week, as have two pilots from Britain, one from Italy and one from Kuwait.

President Bush has criticized Iraq for what he contends is its beating of the pilots and for apparently coercing them to make public anti-war statements. On the broadcasts, some of the pilots' faces appeared bruised and swollen and their speech was halting.

"You can't deduce the same treatment for Westerners as for Iranians, although the Saudis and other Arabs fighting Iraq could face harsher treatment," a diplomat with knowledge of the Iran-Iraq POW issue said in an interview yesterday.

Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney and German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher have accused Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of committing "a war crime" for apparent infractions of the Geneva Conventions, which outline the standards for POW treatment. Bush and British Prime Minister John Major have echoed the war crimes theme while not specifically making the accusation.

Iraq has refused a request by the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit POWs, which is called for in the Geneva Conventions. Four Red Cross members were in Baghdad when the war broke out, working on the repatriation of remaining Iranian POWs.

"It's not possible to work in Baghdad right now; {the Red Cross members} spend most of their time behind sandbags," said committee spokesman Francois Van Zen Ruffinen. "We are discussing the possibility of conducting surveys of civilian victims and of the POW issue. Until now, we have had no feedback because we are cut off from our delegation, but it seems {the Iraqis} agreed to talk about this delicate issue."

Iraq's treatment of its Iranian POWs met with widespread condemnation in the 1980s, although some countries, including the United States, focused more attention on Iran's abuse of prisoners. The United States quietly supported Iraq during the war.

Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980 and fought until 1988. Figures on the number of POWs held in the two countries vary considerably, with estimates of 12,000 to 45,000 Iranians held by Iraq and 42,000 to 100,000 Iraqis held by Iran.

Equally imprecise are the figures of POWs left to repatriate, which range from several thousand to 14,000 on the Iraqi side.

The 1985 U.N. report, following interviews by a five-member team, said prisoners "spoke of being suspended upside down from ceilings or ventilators, or having the soles of their feet whipped or beaten, or electric shocks administered to various parts of their bodies, including their genital organs, of burnings with cigarettes and, in some cases, mock executions."

"In almost all camps we visited, we met POWs who had had their hearing impaired, including several who lost their hearing . . . as a result of blows on their head or ears," the report said. "We were also told that some POWs had lost their sight or had had it seriously impaired as a result of beatings. We noticed scars, bruises, broken teeth and other bodily marks."

The investigators noted it was impossible for them to verify the allegations but said they were struck by similarities in the testimony and concluded that "brutality by guards in most POW camps is common."

In 1988 the U.N. secretary general dispatched another team to investigate and found that progress had been made in the physical treatment of prisoners. The team said the camps were being regularly visited by the Red Cross, which is required under the Geneva Conventions.

Kuwaiti and Western witnesses to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait Aug. 2 have said Iraqi troops detained thousands of Kuwaitis, including political leaders, medical personnel, community volunteers and children as young as 13.

The prisoners, some of whom have been transferred to Iraq, have been housed in crowded and unsanitary conditions and "systematically tortured to extract information, gain cooperation, mute opposition or to set an example to discourage others," Andrew Whitley, executive director of the human rights group Middle East Watch, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this month.

Special correspondent Rowe reported from the United Nations.