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U.S. general knighthood sparks row

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Armed Conflict

LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon has presented the top U.S. military commander behind the invasion of Iraq an honorary knighthood, sparking an outcry in Britain.

Tommy Franks was given the honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his "inspirational leadership" on Tuesday in a private ceremony.

Franks' wife Cathy also attended.

The honorary KBE (Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) is equivalent in ranks to British knights like Sir Richard Branson, Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Elton John.

But Franks, 58, will not be able to call himself Sir Tommy because he is not a British citizen.

Alice Mahon, a leading anti-war rebel in Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party, called the award "the ultimate in bad taste."

"This is not a time to be honoring American military figures when we are being confronted almost daily with the most sickening images of abuse of Iraqis," she told the Daily Mirror newspaper.

The award is not without precedent, as an honorary KBE was given to the two U.S. military architects of the Gulf War in 1990, then-Gen. Colin Powell and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.

Other U.S. citizens to receive an honorary KBE include Bob Hope, Sidney Poitier, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Ed Murrow, John Paul Getty II and the BBC's Alistair Cooke -- the "British" broadcaster who renounced his UK citizenship during World War II.

More recently the award -- recommended by Britain's foreign secretary and conferred by Queen Elizabeth II -- was collected by film director Stephen Spielberg and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

"Gen. Tommy Franks has been a sterling friend of the United Kingdom during a period of turbulence in world affairs," a defense ministry spokesman told CNN.

"This award recognizes his exceptional and inspiring leadership of British forces during operations both in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Paul Keetch, defense spokesman for Britain's opposition Liberal Democrat party, questioned whether the honor had been kept under wraps.

"One wonders why this visit is not being publicized," he told the Daily Mirror.

The MoD said there had been no attempt to cover up the award, and it was a "private matter for Gen. Franks."

The timing of the announcement is unusual as it would normally come with the two half-year British honors awards, the New Year's Honors List and the Queen's Birthday Honors List in June.

Franks, a 36-year military veteran who led the fight to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan and Iraq's Saddam Hussein, retired last (northern hemisphere)summer, turning down the highest job in the U.S. army, the post of Army chief of staff offered by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (Franks retires)

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has become increasingly unpopular with the British public, and pictures showing the inhumane treatment of prisoners by the U.S. military have increased pressure on Blair, a staunch supporter of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Two-thirds of Britons oppose sending more troops to Iraq, an opinion poll indicated Tuesday.

Asked whether Britain should send 3,000 more troops to Iraq to join the 9,000 already there, 66 percent said they disapproved, according to the Guardian/ICM poll.

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