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Iraq Transition

Blair vows probe into abuse claims

News of the World said eight British soldiers were part of the alleged attack.


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Great Britain

(CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has promised to investigate allegations of abuse by his country's forces in Iraq after a newspaper released what it said was a video showing soldiers savagely beating Iraqi youths.

The News of the World said on Sunday the alleged attack by eight soldiers, which followed a scene showing youths throwing stones at the soldiers, was videotaped in southern Iraq in early 2004. CNN has not confirmed the authenticity of the film.

"We take seriously any allegations of mistreatment, and this will be investigated very fully indeed," Blair told reporters after a meeting of left-of-center leaders in South Africa.

"But I have to say to you that the overwhelming majority of British troops in Iraq, as elsewhere, behave properly and are doing a great job. They are helping Iraqis to become the democracy they would like to be."

The News of the World said the scenes, which lasted about two minutes, were videotaped by a corporal "for fun," apparently from a nearby rooftop.

On the tape, the youths' pleas for mercy are ignored. The beatings include what appears to be a British soldier kicking one of the youths, shown pinned to the ground by other soldiers, in the genitals.

In another case, a soldier puts a boy in a headlock, then releases him only to butt his head against the boy's, then strike his fist on the boy's head.

The youth's cries can be heard on the tape, which shows a minute's worth of the attack -- with 42 blows counted, according to the newspaper.

The tape includes what sounds like a running commentary of approval from the cameraman. "Oh yes! Oh yes! You're gonna get it. Yes, naughty little boys!" the narrator can be heard saying as the blows land. "Die! Ha, ha!"

The News of the World said the video was shown to friends of the corporal in Europe, and one of them reported the incident to the tabloid newspaper.

The paper said it chose not to identify the soldiers' unit and regiment for security reasons.

The paper quoted the informant as saying: "These Iraqis were just kids. Most haven't even got shoes on. Those eight soldiers were pumped up and out of control. They're an insult to the thousands of soldiers who have worked so hard in Iraq with courage and dignity for so long.

"They're nothing but a gang of thugs."

Soldiers jailed

British defense ministry issued a statement through British Brigadier Martin Rutledge, chief of staff of the adjutant general, in which he described the images as "extremely disturbing."

"We condemn all acts of abuse and always treat any allegations of wrongdoing extremely seriously," he said.

"Over 80,000 service men and women have served in Iraq since military service operations began. And a tiny number are alleged to be involved in instances of deliberate abuse. The most important thing now is that we now establish the facts and allow the legal process to run its course."

British Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn called for troops alleged to be involved to be suspended.

"I think it's awful and I think it will cause a lot of trouble in Iraq and I think it will also emphasize the whole point that the continued presence of British and American forces in Iraq are part of the problem, not the solution," he told ITV on Sunday.

Allegations of mistreatment have been leveled at British troops before, but not on the scale of the abuse carried out by Americans against prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib jail in a scandal that shocked the world in 2004.

Three British soldiers were jailed last year in a case brought after the publication of pictures taken in 2003 that showed Iraqi prisoners being beaten and forced to pose in sexually humiliating positions.

But another set of photos, which appeared in the Mirror newspaper, proved to be a hoax.

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