Eight British Soldiers Suspected of Abuse; but Government Claims Proof That Iraq Prisoner Photos Were Faked

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LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, under fire in Parliament for "incompetence and failure," acknowledged yesterday it was investigating eight soldiers for suspected prisoner abuse, including at least one killing.

But the pictures that dragged British troops into the abuse row have turned out to be fake, the government contended.

In a politically embarrassing admission, authorities conceded that a highly critical report from the International Committee of the Red Cross citing three cases of suspected abuse had never reached the prime minister or Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon.

Mr. Hoon told the House of Commons in a rowdy debate that the military had considered it unnecessary to refer the matter up the chain of command because the cases were already being investigated. That claim was greeted with derision by the Conservative Party opposition.

Mr. Hoon also told Parliament the army had ordered an end to the placing of hoods over the heads of Iraqis when they were arrested or while in detention or under interrogation.

Outside, a handful of antiwar demonstrators held up posters such as, "You ain't nothing but a Hoon dog."

The prisoner furor in the United States and Britain have further undermined public confidence in the nation's military role in Iraq. A survey published yesterday in the Independent showed 55 percent of Britons wanting a complete pullout of forces by the end of next month, when sovereignty is due to be handed back to Iraqis.

Only 38 percent were in favor of maintaining an indefinite troop presence, with the rest listed as unsure.

But there was some good news for the government as it struggled to contain the scandal.

Mr. Hoon announced that two published photographs said to show British soldiers abusing an Iraqi prisoner in Basra had not been taken in Iraq. Investigators found that the type of truck in which the prisoner was crouching had not been deployed in Iraq at the relevant time, he said. …