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Last Updated: Monday, 20 February 2006, 14:36 GMT
Reid urging sympathy for troops
John Reid

The public should be more understanding of the "unprecedented challenges" faced by British troops in foreign battle zones, the defence secretary has said.

John Reid has urged people to be "slow to condemn" UK forces in Iraq.

His comments come after three soldiers were questioned over a video showing apparent abuse of Iraqi civilians by UK troops two years ago.

The video has prompted two regional councils in southern Iraq to halt co-operation with the British Army.

I ask that we try to imagine what it must be like on the battlefield
John Reid

UK military police have started interviewing four Iraqi youths about the video, taken during a demonstration in Amara, southern Iraq.

Mr Reid, in a speech to King's College, in London, said soldiers face intense scrutiny as they take on terrorists prepared to resort to any measures.

"I ask that we try to imagine what it must be like on the battlefield," he said.

If this happens "we may be a little slower to condemn and a lot quicker to understand... the best fighting force in the world".


Speaking ahead of the speech, Mr Reid told the BBC the troops' circumstances were the toughest in history because "they face an enemy that is completely unconstrained".

"Yet our troops are increasingly constrained not just by international law and conventions, the standards we want to keep, but by media scrutiny, by videophones, by mobile phones, by satellite dishes."

While it was right to disapprove of abuse, it should be kept in proportion, he said, and out of nearly 100,000 British troops who had served in Iraq, there had only been five sustainable allegations of the mistreatment of civilians, he said.

The Maysan council has joined its counterpart in Basra in registering a protest over the video footage, meaning most of British-controlled Iraq is now not co-operating with the Army.

All contact with UK military and civilian authorities in Maysan has been suspended and the council has demanded the release of all the detainees from the province being held by the coalition.

The council in Basra, which froze ties last week, has now warned its employees they will be fired if they have any involvement with the British forces.

Both councils are also demanding an immediate handover of powers from the British.

Military officials are hoping a speedy and thorough investigation into the events at Amara will help defuse tensions.

The video, released by the News of the World on February 12, shows soldiers apparently kicking and beating Iraqis, and was widely condemned.

Do you agree with John Reid? Have you, or anyone you know, served in Iraq? Send us your comments and experiences using the form below.

The following comments reflect the balance of views received:

As a serviceman, it is heartening to see the balance of opinion supports John Reid's line; thankyou! Whilst I would never condone ANY mistreatment of prisoners - whether military or civilian - a little understanding goes a long way. For me, the greater worrying issue here is the mentality of the editors appointed to the News of the World and Sun newspapers. Aside from their efforts to completely dumb down the nation, their willingness to publish any story line, regardless of the consequences astounds me.
Sean, Bath, UK

I agree completely with John Reid. I do not like abuse/violence from either side. I would like our troops to be brought back from Iraq. But I find it very difficult to understand why a British newspaper should select to show pictures from part of a video showing abuse by soldiers, without any reference to the life threatening violence that these soldiers had been subjected to immediately before. Just who do they think they're helping?
Ian Barwell, Waterlooville Hampshire

If Mr Reid and the British Government had a post Iraq war plan, from the start, to bring peace to Iraq after the war in 2003, we wouldn't be in the mess we are in now.
Philip Hunt, Measham

I agree entirely with John Reed, in fact I would go much further and withdraw our troops from Basra and let these people get on with it, they do not deserve the help and friendship of our troops.
Michael Mciver, Hastings England

The world draws its own conclusions when it sees film and pictures of assaults by UK and US troops (or Russian troops in Chechnya). The British Army has (or should have) learned the hard way that harsh treatment to civilians or opponents provokes retaliation. It's the dead and wounded soldiers which are the result of those retaliations which will turn opinion against this exercise. Reid and his commanders would be better employed making sure that mistakes like this don't happen (ever) rather than whingeing about adverse comments in the media or at home.
Richard, London UK

I am a War Studies student at King's College London and was present at Mr Reid's speech today, he gave a very thought provoking speech. And although made good points about remembering how our troops have to endure the most extreme conditions in which to do their jobs, he did however miss the key aspect. And that is that by simply giving a speech of this nature all he achieved to reinforce the notion that Whitehall and the media are simply terrorist obsessed. Surely there is much more to be said about the defence policy of the UK rather than to simply respond to the latest demand for blood from the latest media-originated story?
Danny Steed, London, UK

I totally agree with John Reid. I served in the British Army for nine years. I feel that the British Government is asking far more from the military then is reasonable. It is so easy for the public and politicians to condemn the actions of a few frustrated soldiers, I am not saying what they did was acceptable and I feel charges should be brought against the soldiers involved but a court and not the news agencies should try them. I believe that they will all be "thrown to the wolves" as a knee jerk action by the British Military so they look like they are "doing what is right by the public" The politicians and senior military officials who visit this country visit under very tight security and after weeks of preparation by the units in place so they do not really see what the conditions are like. Let them ride in the land rovers on a routine patrol; let them walk the streets with a regular patrol and not the "beefed up security, only in a soft area" tour they normally get to take.
Peter, Issaquah, Washington, USA

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