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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

British Abuse Photos Surface

LONDON -- Iraq returned to haunt Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday as pictures of British soldiers apparently abusing Iraqis were splashed over newspapers in an echo of last year's Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

As a court-martial of three British soldiers continued in Germany, front page pictures showed naked Iraqi prisoners appearing to be forced to simulate anal and other sexual acts under "Shame" and "Shock" headlines.

Just four months before an expected election, Blair was forced yet again to answer questions on Iraq -- nearly two years after the deeply unpopular war started.

"Everyone finds those photographs shocking and appalling, and there are simply no other words to describe them," Blair told parliament, adding however that the majority of British troops had acted with distinction and honor.

Questions over the prime minister's decision to side with U.S. President George W. Bush and go to war, especially given the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, have led to a slump in Blair's personal trust ratings.

But in the last few months, Blair, who is tipped to win the election expected in May albeit with a reduced majority, had steered political debate back onto domestic issues.

"There is obviously a certain amount of damage because Blair is associated with the policy in Iraq," said Wyn Grant, politics professor at Warwick University.

"It had been off the agenda for the last few weeks and this will bring it back," he said, adding he could come under greater pressure if Iraqi elections on Jan. 30 do not go smoothly.

The court-martial is the latest in a series of hearings against U.S. and British soldiers after photographs of abuse by U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib jail emerged last year, sparking global outrage.

Blair has said the Abu Ghraib scandal was a personal low point, and it was at that time speculation arose that he may stand down.

Some observers said the photos could help al-Qaida.

"There will be such anger against the coalition, and against Britain in particular, that there is no way cooperation and goodwill can prevail," Tam Dalyell, a member of Blair's Labour Party, told Sky television.

That view had some resonance in Baghdad.

"Now I'm starting to hate the British. They are worse than the Americans, they are dogs," said Safaa Hadi, a 16-year-old on a street in Baghdad.

But unlike Abu Ghraib, the trial has not sparked allegations of systematic abuse and Gulf media did not give the story big play, with the pictures appearing mainly on inside pages.

With some 9,000 British troops still operating in southern Iraq, experts warned of damage to the image of Britain's military, which had been widely viewed as adopting a less heavy-handed approach than their U.S. counterparts.

The three British soldiers on trial have denied numerous counts of abuse, although one admitted assaulting a man.