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Doubts over UK 'abuse' pictures


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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Doubts are growing over the authenticity of photographs that allegedly show British troops mistreating an Iraqi prisoner.

Some British military officials have cast doubt on the pictures -- first published in the Daily Mirror newspaper -- saying the clothing and equipment pictured is not currently troop issue.

But military and photographic experts have pointed out a series of inaccuracies and inconsistencies, suggesting the pictures were fakes.

The experts say the SA80 rifle shown in the images was not issued to British soldiers currently serving in Iraq.

They also say the alleged captive's shirt depicts the pre-1988 Iraqi flag and is too clean to be that old.

And the location of the photos suggest the inside of a Bedford truck -- but experts say those vehicles are not being used by British forces in southern Iraq.

The Mirror's pictures, which it said came from two soldiers in the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, showed soldiers apparently kicking, stamping and urinating on a hooded Iraqi.

It said they were taken during an eight-hour beating in Basra, southern Iraq, where Britain has around 7,500 troops.

The Daily Mirror is standing by the story and on Monday published more detailed reports of alleged abuse and hinted it may publish more images.

"Despite the whispering campaign and dodgy briefings that went on yesterday, the Daily Mirror has no doubt that the allegations made by the two soldiers who came to us were true," the newspaper said in an editorial on Monday.

But the newspaper seemingly acknowledged the apparent inconsistencies could not easily be explained.

"The two squaddies (British soldiers) admit they cannot answer questions regarding minor details in the photos which were taken months ago," said the newspaper.

A Mirror spokesman declined to say whether the newspaper paid the two men for the pictures.

A former commander of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment dismissed the photographs as having "too many inconsistencies."

Colonel David Black told the BBC on Monday the vehicle shown in the pictures was never sent to the war zone in Iraq and the uniforms were not the same as those worn by the regiment.

But John Nichol, a former British soldier captured during the 1991 Gulf War, believes authenticity isn't the issue.

"If we find out in a week's time or four week's that they're not authentic -- it doesn't matter -- the whole Arab world have seen them and it is turning Arab opinion against the forces in Iraq and that can only do immense damage to those troops trying to do the best they can," Nichol told CNN. (Nichol interview)

British officials say an investigation into the matter is ongoing.

"We want to find out how this came about," retired Col. Bob Stewart, former NATO commander in Bosnia, said.

"If people did it and they're within our ranks, those of us that are against it -- everyone -- will want them in prison. If it's some kind of sicko's joke, I want them in prison too."

Prime Minister Tony Blair also condemned the alleged abuse, but stressed it did not reflect the conduct of the vast majority of coalition troops.

"This is not representative of the 150,000 soldiers that are in Iraq," Blair's official spokesman said.

Eight cases of alleged mistreatment by British personnel were being investigated, he confirmed.

American television network CBS has also aired photos of U.S. soldiers apparently engaged in a wide range of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.

CNN has not verified the authenticity of those images.

The U.S. military has reprimanded six American soldiers and admonished another in connection with alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the prison.(Full story)

But a leading human rights group has said graphic pictures shown on TV and in newspapers of alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners by coalition soldiers are the tip of the iceberg and that it has uncovered widespread torture.

London-based Amnesty International said it hoped the images apparently showing detainees being mistreated would force the U.S. and British governments to launch an independent investigation into the abuse claims. (Full story)

CNN Correspondent Guy Raz contributed to this report.


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