British military police have arrested two people in connection with video images that appear to show British soldiers abusing Iraqi civilians, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday.
The ministry did not give further details.
Video images first reported Sunday by newspaper the News of the World appeared to show soldiers dragging several young Iraqis into a compound and beating them with fists and batons following a street demonstration.
A soldier arrested by military police Sunday was identified by the British Broadcasting Corp. as Cpl. Martin Webster of the 1st Battalion Infantry. It was not clear whether Webster was being interviewed as a witness or a perpetrator in the 2004 incident, the BBC said.
The newspaper said the video was filmed in southern Iraq by a corporal two years ago. It did not name the soldier or the unit involved.
Photos of U.S. troops tormenting and humiliating prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad in 2003 caused worldwide revulsion, and there have also been allegations of abuse by British troops.
Earlier photos fake
However, the Daily Mirror newspaper apologized in 2004 after acknowledging that photographs purportedly showing British soldiers abusing a hooded Iraqi had been faked.
The News of the World said it had made exhaustive checks to confirm the authenticity of the video, which it said was passed on by a whistle-blower whom the newspaper refused to identify.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair promised an investigation, and a military spokesman backed that up.
“The images in this video amount to very serious allegations. We can confirm they are now the subject of an urgent Royal Military Police investigation. They are disturbing images,” said Brig. Martin Routledge, the adjutant general’s chief of staff, in a statement Sunday.
“We condemn all acts of abuse and brutality and always treat any allegations of wrongdoing by our personnel extremely seriously,” he said.
Street battle shown
The footage purportedly shows a street confrontation in which Iraqi youths throw objects at British soldiers and then flee down the street. The cameraman provides narration and urges the soldiers on.
The soldiers apparently chase the Iraqis, catch at least three and drag them through a gate into a fenced in areas, according to the footage. The civilians are then pulled to the ground and beaten by at least five alleged British soldiers with batons and fists.
One of the civilians has his shirt ripped off.
The footage then shows what appears to be another group of soldiers dragging in another civilian and beating him with batons.
Replayed across Arab world
Arab satellite television stations, including Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, replayed the footage throughout Sunday and juxtaposed the images alongside pictures from the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.
Most of Britain’s more than 8,000 troops in Iraq are based in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, about 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.
“This is good proof of the violations of human rights being committed by British troops in Basra,” said Akil al-Bahadily, an official from the Basra office of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Basra resident Muhannad al-Moussaoui said, “We thank God that it comes from their own photography. Many consider the actions normal compared to what happens behind closed doors, which is greater.”
A British military spokesman in Basra said the new abuse allegations involved only a small number of the more than 80,000 British personnel who have served in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
“We condemn all acts of abuse and brutality,” said Flight Lt. Chris Thomas, who declined to say which units were based in Basra two years ago. “We hope that the good relations that the Multi-National Forces have worked very hard to develop won’t be adversely affected by this material.”
Relations between British forces and some Iraqi political figures in Basra have come under strain recently, with some complaints about British detentions of local policemen linked to numerous kidnappings and killings, as well as British security control over Basra International Airport.