PM: Iraqi abuse photos are fake

by ESTHER SWALES, Daily Mail online

Tony Blair has today denied that there was any evidence of 'systematic abuse' of Iraqi detainees by British troops and told MPs that he had not seen the Red Cross report before Monday.

The Prime Minister had opened question time by offering his condolences to the families and friends of those killed and injured in yesterday's explosion at a Glasgow plastics factory.

Moving onto the thorny issue of prisoner abuse in Iraq, Tony Blair denied that there was any evidence of "systematic abuse" of Iraqi detainees by British troops, and said he first saw the Red Cross report on abuse on Monday.

He added that the photographs published in the Daily Mirror were "almost certainly fake".

Defending troops' role in Iraq, Mr Blair told the Commons: "I believe we should be proud of the part British troops have played in Iraq."

Red Cross report 'not seen'

Coming under pressure from MPs, Mr Blair said that the allegations of abuse by British troops detailed in the Red Cross report were already being investigated.

He told the Commons that he first saw the Red Cross report on Monday and did not know of the allegations contained in it before then. He said that the report was not passed to ministers in February because all of the allegations relating to British troops were already being dealt with.

Conservative leader Michael Howard said the report contained "devastating allegations" which had led to the greatest crisis in Iraq since the war and that the British people would conclude there was "no sensible explanation" why ministers did not see it.

He asked how people in the country could have confidence in the Prime Minister and the Government, when they had failed to give any explanation for not having seen or acted on the report.

Mr Blair said 33 cases of deaths of civilians had been investigated, in 15 of which there was no case to answer. The military police will shortly announce action on six others.

The Red Cross report was given to Coalition Provisional Authority officials, including aides to the UK envoy Sir Jeremy Greenstock on February 26.

It raised three concerns about UK forces - the systematic hooding of prisoners, which Mr Blair said had already been stopped; the death in custody of an Iraqi which was already being investigated and an incident involving the loss of a car which was not pursued.

But the report painted a damning picture of systematic abuses by US forces and mistreatment of prisoners in their hands.

Responding to Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, Mr Blair acknowledged that recent events had been "immensely damaging" but insisted that when allegations had been made action had been taken.

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