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Britain's Blair to face more questions over Iraq
Updated: 2004-05-12 10:29

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair will face a barrage of questions on Wednesday over accusations one of his ministers misled parliament about abuse of Iraqis by British troops, with the opposition to demand to know who knew what and when.

The prime minister, under unrelenting criticism over last year's U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, will make his weekly parliamentary appearance after ministers said a damning Red Cross report was seen only by officials.

A separate dossier from human rights group Amnesty International added to his troubles on Tuesday, accusing British troops of killing Iraqi civilians -- including an eight-year-old girl -- when they posed no apparent threat.

The group said it alerted Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram to its concerns late last year and that he had acknowledged receipt of its letter.

But in parliament last week, when asked if he had received any "adverse" reports concerning the actions of British troops, Ingram said he had not.

"We were surprised because we have the correspondence back signed by Mr. Ingram himself," Amnesty's Neil Durkin told BBC Radio.

"I'm very much afraid to say that I think that Adam Ingram may have materially misled the House of Commons," Conservative defense spokesman Nicholas Soames said.


Ministers are under fire after the International Committee of the Red Cross said it had handed over in February a report -- leaked to an American newspaper on Monday -- detailing mistreatment of Iraqi captives by U.S. and British soldiers.

It described British troops stamping on the necks of Iraqi prisoners in an incident in which one captive died, and said some Americans meted out abuse "tantamount to torture."

Ministers from Blair down said they had not seen the report until the last few days and that it was dealt with by officials.

Blair's spokesman said Red Cross rules about confidentiality had prevented it from going to ministers.

But Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw offered contradictory statements about precisely which officials had seen it.

Hoon said former envoy to Iraq Sir Jeremy Greenstock had been given the Red Cross dossier but Straw later clarified in parliament that it had in fact gone only to his subordinates who had passed it on to officials in London.

Straw's opponents said it was incredible that such a serious issue would not have reached the top echelons of government.

"Are you seriously suggesting that Foreign Office ministers were kept in the dark about this important report for some two months?" Conservative opposite number Michael Ancram asked him.

"With...hindsight it should have been made available to ministers but as it happens it was not," Straw replied.

The Daily Mirror, which had earlier published photographs -- whose authenticity has been questioned -- of an Iraqi captive being urinated on and beaten by British troops, detailed new allegations of abuse on Wednesday.

"Some things I saw sickened me," an unnamed soldier told the paper. "We went out there to free them and were treating them worse than dogs."

Although allegations leveled at British troops pale in comparison to shocking images of Iraqi prisoners humiliated by their U.S. jailers at a prison outside Baghdad, a poll on Tuesday put support for Blair's Labour party at 32 percent -- a 17-year low.

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