BAGHDAD, Iraq – Video images of British soldiers allegedly beating Iraqi youths with batons and fists aired throughout the Middle East and Britain on Sunday, outraging locals and prompting British Prime Minister Tony Blair to vow a full investigation.
The tape was obtained by the News of the World tabloid newspaper from a whistleblower it did not identify. 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.
The newspaper claims the video was filmed in southern Iraq by a corporal two years ago.
The British government said military police were investigating the allegations.
"We take seriously any allegations of mistreatment and those will be investigated very fully indeed," Blair said in South Africa while attending a meeting of center-left politicians.
However, he added that "the overwhelming majority of British troops, in Iraq as elsewhere, behave properly, are doing a great job for our country and for the wider world."
"They deserve our fullest support in the work they are doing."
A Ministry of Defense spokesman, Brig. Martin Rutledge, said the images were "extremely disturbing and are the subject of an urgent Royal Military Police investigation."
"The images in this video amount to serious allegations," Rutledge said.
The News of the World said it had made exhaustive checks to confirm the authenticity of the latest video.
Arab satellite television stations, including Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, replayed the footage throughout the day 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.
Photos of U.S. troops tormenting and humiliating prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad in 2003 caused worldwide revulsion, and there also have been allegations of abuse by British troops.
However, the Daily Mirror newspaper apologized in 2004 after acknowledging that photographs purportedly showing British soldiers abusing a hooded Iraqi had been faked.