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March 28, 2003
 
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Britain Less Certain About Iraq Execution Claim

Reuters


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LONDON (Reuters) - The British government on Friday qualified its accusation that Iraq had executed two British soldiers and then shown their bodies on television, after relatives of one of the dead reacted angrily.

At a joint news conference with President Bush in Camp David on Thursday, Prime Minister Tony Blair denounced Iraq for releasing ..."those pictures of executed British soldiers."

"If anyone needed any further evidence of the depravity of Saddam's regime, this atrocity provides it," Blair said. But on Friday, his official spokesman was more qualified.

"Our assessment indicates that the soldiers in question may well have been executed," he told reporters. "The information available...draws us toward that conclusion."

Earlier this week, the Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera showed pictures of two dead Britons in uniform surrounded by an exulting mob. Iraq denied the charge that it had executed the troops as each side accused the other of black propaganda.

In an interview with Abu Dhabi television on Thursday, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammad Saeed al-Sahaf said Blair had "lied to the public," adding: "We haven't executed anyone."

The family of one of the soldiers, 24-year-old Luke Allsopp, reacted furiously to Blair's claim, telling the Daily Mirror newspaper that a senior army officer had told them he had died in action.

"It makes a big difference to us knowing that he died quickly," the Mirror quoted Allsopp's sister Nina as saying. "We can't understand why people are lying about what happened."

Blair's spokesman said the execution charge was based on the fact that the two soldiers were lying some distance from their vehicle and had been stripped of their helmets and body armor.

Reporters said their equipment could just as easily have been removed after they were killed in action, but got no response.

The spokesman tried to soothe the relatives' anguish. "Nobody has ever for a second questioned the bravery or the honor of these soldiers," he said.

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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