MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
A British newspaper has released a video apparently showing British soldiers beating Iraqi teenagers. Prime Minister Tony Blair has launched an inquiry into the allegations of brutality by the British army in Iraq. The News of the World newspaper published photos from the video, and the original tape has been broadcast in Britain and throughout the Arab world.
As NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London, the images are adding to Muslim hostility towards Europe.
ROB GIFFORD: The recent publication in European newspapers of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which many Muslims deem to be offensive, has already stoked Islamic anger. Now come the images of British soldiers beating what look like Iraqi boys barely into their teens. The News of the World's video shows the boys throwing stones and abuse at the British soldiers, and a makeshift grenade being thrown outside the British Army Base in Basra. Suddenly a group of soldiers emerges to chase the boys and drag them behind a wall, where they beat them with batons and fists. The cameraman keeps up a running commentary.
Y: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. You're gonna get it. Yes. Naughty little boys.
GIFFORD: Two years ago, the Daily Mirror newspaper published photos it alleged were of British Army brutality in Iraq, which turned out to be fakes. The editor was forced to resign, and the paper apologized. The editor of the News of the World says the footage released yesterday, which he dates from 2004, was rigorously checked for authenticity. In Baghdad, the Iraqi national security advisor, Mowafaq al-Rubai, was, like many Iraqis, furious.
MOWAFAQ AL: (Through translator) This is not acceptable. We demand an immediate and rapid investigation. We also demand that there are Iraqi investigators on the investigating committee. They must compensate the victims and apologize to them directly.
GIFFORD: A Shiite cleric, Yusef al-Nazri, described the incident as like something from the jungle, and said Iraqi people would never trust the British again. The video comes two years after the publication of photos taken of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. The British Army, based in the south of Iraq, has gone to great lengths to try to win hearts and minds in the areas where it is active. The spokesman for the British forces in Basra is Major Peter Cripps.
PETER CRIPPS: We're pretty disappointed at the footage. The images in the video amount to very serious allegations. They are extremely disturbing. But they are now subject of an urgent Royal Military police investigation. The News of the World has some details about the names of the individuals, and they are also reporting they know the unit, so with any luck, that information will be passed to the inquiry and they can complete their investigation.
GIFFORD: Tony Blair, who was in South Africa at the weekend, confirmed before he left for London that there would be an investigation, but he also defended British troops.
TONY BLAIR: We take seriously any allegations of mistreatment, and those will be investigated very fully indeed. But I want to say to you 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.
GIFFORD: The Ministry of Defense in London has announced that a man has been arrested in connection with the video, though officials would not say if the man was a soldier.
Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.