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Iraq prison 'abuse' sparks outrage

Images of the apparent abuse were splashed across British newspapers.
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(CNN) -- The broadcast of photographs apparently showing U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners has provoked outrage around the world.

Arab television stations led their news programs Friday with the images with one main channel calling the pictures evidence of the "immoral practices" of American forces.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair also condemned the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners, 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 of Iraqis by British personnel were also being investigated, he confirmed.

American television network CBS aired the photos of U.S. soldiers engaged in a wide range of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. CNN has not verified the authenticity of the images.

One picture apparently shows an Iraqi prisoner standing on a box with his head covered, wires attached to his hands. Others show U.S. soldiers smiling as they look at hooded and naked prisoners.

The U.S. military moved quickly, saying six soldiers had been charged with abusing inmates at the prison and an investigation launched.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said Friday he was concerned the reports of abuse against Iraqis would "increase the risk to the individual soldiers."

He said he had met representatives of Iraq's newspapers to discuss how to report the story. Iraq does not publish newspapers on Friday, the Muslim holy day.

He said he was "disgusted" by the photographs from the CBS report.

"It's a small number of soldiers who abused a small number of prisoners," he said, noting the vast majority of soldiers have treated people with dignity and respect.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said on Friday he was "appalled" by the images but praised the military for investigating.

Military expert Colonel Bob Stewart said the pictures would inflame an already volatile situation in the Arab world.

Stewart, NATO's former commander in Bosnia, told ITN they were "the best recruiting sergeant that al Qaeda and those people that want to fight against British soldiers, American soldiers and the rest of coalition could ever want."

The images were also splashed across many of Britain's newspapers. "We are losing their hearts and minds," was the headline of the right-wing Daily Mail's main editorial comment.

The left-of-center Daily Mirror added: "When it comes to winning hearts and minds the U.S. army hasn't got a clue. Many of its actions seem calculated to make enemies of Iraqis and drive them into the arms of extremists. The photos of prisoners being tortured ... are the most unforgivable acts yet."

Kimmitt said the investigation involves a small number of troops.

Ann Clwyd, Blair's human rights envoy to Iraq and a lawmaker from the ruling Labour Party, voiced her condemnation. "I think they are absolutely terrible. I am shocked," she told British radio.

However, Clwyd said there was no comparison with how prisoners were treated under Saddam. "A small number of cases, horrible though they are -- you cannot compare that with the tens of thousands of people Saddam Hussein was responsible for executing and torturing."

Some Baghdad residents, who saw the images on Arabic television networks on Friday, told CNN's Ben Wedeman they were angered by the photographs.

Al-Jazeera introduced the pictures by saying they showed the "immoral practices" of Iraq's occupation forces.

"One Iraqi told me 'this sort of thing is unacceptable. It's a grave insult to the dignity and humanity of Iraqis,'" Wedeman said.

"The expectation is that this is going to be a huge problem to the U.S.-led coalition trying to explain the situation, trying to calm down what are going to be some pretty fiery emotions."

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, agreed. "It is absolutely shocking. I think this is the end of the story, the straw that broke the camel's back, for America," he told the UK Press Association.

"People will be extremely angry ... sexual abuse is the worst thing in that part of the world. It is shocking to all Muslims. America has lost the battle completely. I believe there will be more attacks."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which monitors treatment of prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, said it could not confirm the authenticity of the images but expressed concern about them.

Spokesman Floridan Westphal noted that the United States had reported its investigation of the incident in question and indicated measures would be taken.

Speaking from Geneva, Switzerland, Westphal said the Geneva Conventions "quite strictly" outlaw mistreatment of prisons and said that at all times "compliance with the conventions is essential."

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