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Video shows brits brutally attacking iraqi teens { February 13 2006 }

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Army fears reprisals as Blair orders abuse video inquiry

Richard Norton-Taylor
Monday February 13, 2006
The Guardian

Military commanders yesterday stepped up security for British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of a video apparently showing soldiers brutally attacking defenceless Iraqi teenagers.

The video was shown on TV channels in the Arab world just as ministers and Muslim leaders are trying to dampen the row over the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, and when thousands of British troops are preparing to be deployed to the hostile environment of southern Afghanistan.

It has come at a "bad time", a senior defence source admitted. The Ministry of Defence, still reeling after a series of cases of alleged abuse of Iraqis by British troops, said that the video appeared genuine, describing it as "extremely disturbing", and saying military police had begun an urgent investigation.

The film is described as a "secret home video" which was obtained by the News of the World, and apparently was filmed from a rooftop for fun by a corporal who is heard laughing and urging on at least eight of his colleagues. It shows the troops repeatedly kicking and punching civilians with batons after seizing them following riots two years ago in the Basra region in which British forces were attacked. Another soldier, apparently a corporal, mocks the youths and urges his colleagues on. The newspaper declined to name the regiment, understood to be based in Germany, to try to avoid reprisals.

The 20 Armoured Brigade, based in Paderborn, Germany, was deployed in southern Iraq until April 2004, a period that covered the riots in March.

The brigade included the 1st Battalion Light Infantry, the 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Wales, the Queen's Royal Hussars, and 26 Royal Artillery. The brigade was replaced in April by 1 Mechanised Brigade.

The footage risks aggravating already delicate relations between British forces in southern Iraq and the local population. Last night, an ally of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr warned that demonstrators would take to the streets in Basra in protest at the apparent abuse.

Political sensitivity surrounding the damaging and highly embarrassing video was reflected in ministers, from Tony Blair down, rushing to join a combined exercise in damage limitation.

The only minister who did not do so was the defence secretary, John Reid, on the grounds that he could be part of the "chain of command" who could decide what punishment, if any, should be meted out to the soldiers.

Tony Blair said: "We take seriously any allegations of mistreatment and those will be investigated very fully indeed."

But he added that the "overwhelming majority" of British troops behaved properly and did a "great job for our country and for the wider world". They deserved the "fullest support" for their role in Iraq.

Speaking at a press conference in South Africa where he is attending a summit of centre-left leaders, the prime minister said: "Their presence there, under a United Nations resolution, helping Iraqis become the democracy they want to become, is of fundamental importance, not just to the security in Iraq but to the security of my country, Britain, and the wider international community."

The chancellor, Gordon Brown, said that if the allegations were true, they showed "unacceptable behaviour". Speaking on the BBC's Sunday AM programme, Mr Brown said the "loyal, hard-working, decent troops" in Iraq would see the allegations as a "slight on their great work". The shadow foreign secretary, Liam Fox, said British troops "must adhere to the highest possible standards" but added that the behaviour was not typical. The Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, Michael Moore, said that the allegations increased the urgency of setting a plan to pull troops out.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, called the images "appalling" and said they would cause "enormous damage to our standing in the Muslim world".

He warned that it would put British troops "in greater peril". In Iraq, Akil al-Bahadily, an official from the Basra office of Moqtada al-Sadr, said: "This is good proof of the violations of human rights being committed by British troops in Basra."

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