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In this section
Leader: Iraq's future

Flagging the issues but the devil in lack of policy details

War costs escalate by more than £1bn

No 10 backtracks on claim that two British soldiers were executed

'We are working to make the world more peaceful'

The battle for hearts and minds

British troops face hit and run raids in Basra

Seumas Milne: They are fighting for their independence, not Saddam

Blair and Bush talk of repairing Arab links

Defence chiefs demand al-Jazeera stops screening film of dead soldiers

Special report: foreign affairs  |  Special report: politics and the war

No 10 backtracks on claim that two British soldiers were executed

Steven Morris and Rory McCarthy in Camp as-Sayliya, Qatar
Friday March 28, 2003
The Guardian

Tony Blair appeared to backtrack yesterday when his official spokesman said there was no "absolute evidence" that two British soldiers who were killed after being separated from their unit in southern Iraq were executed, as the prime minister had earlier suggested.

Despite Mr Blair's unequivocal accusation that two British soldiers were executed by Iraqi forces, his official spokesman later said: "The bodies were some distance from the vehicles in which they were travelling. They had lost their helmets and flak jackets. We accept that this is not absolute evidence, but it does point in the direction that these people were shot."

Mr Blair had been told by defence chiefs that the way the bodies were lying in images shown on the Arabic language television channel, al-Jazeera, suggested that they were dragged out of their Land Rover and killed in cold blood.

The two men were named by the Ministry of Defence last night as Sapper Luke Allsopp, 24, from north London and Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth, 36, from Essex, both of 33 EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) Engineer Regiment.

During a joint press conference with George Bush at Camp David, Mr Blair called the supposed executions acts "of cruelty beyond all human comprehension".

A British military official at central command in Qatar was less adamant: "While the footage shown yesterday suggested that they might have been executed, the pictures are of a poor quality and don't provide us with the facts."

Mr Bush had supported Mr Blair. "They were murdered, unarmed soldiers executed. That's a war crime," he said.

Sources said that the fact that the bodies were lying away from their vehicle without their rifles and helmets suggested they were not killed in the course of a battle. It is also possible the bodies may have been pulled away from their vehicle after the men were killed and their rifles and helmets stolen as trophies.

Yesterday, members of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment expressed their anger at the reports that colleagues had been "executed". Private Danny Quirk, 22, from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, said at a checkpoint close to the spot where the British soldiers went missing: "Now we know we are fighting a dirty war. If it's true that the British soldiers were executed in cold blood, we have to accept that we are fighting barbarians."

Iraq's ambassador to Russia, Abbas Khalaf, denied Iraq had executed American and British prisoners and reiterated that Baghdad would treat captives in line with the Geneva convention.

 Special report
Iraq: latest news and analysis

27.03.2003: Hour by hour: day eight of war

 The Informer
Sign up for our free 2pm daily email briefing

 Key documents
20.03.2003: Full text: George Bush's address on the start of war
More key speeches and documents

 Interactive guides
Click-through graphics on Iraq

 More special reports
Politics and the war
Aid for Iraq
Iraq - the media war

 Voices on Iraq
Read our collection of 30 exclusive interviews

 Comment and analysis
Comment and analysis on Iraq

Iraq: archive special

 News guide

 Anti-war movement
Special report: the anti-war movement
28.01.2003: Guide to anti-war websites

 Useful links
Arab Gateway: Iraq briefing
Middle East Daily
Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq
Global Policy Forum: sanctions against Iraq
UN special commission on Iraq

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