Vol. 5 Num 617 Wed. February 22, 2006  

Iraqi minister survives bomb attack
Straw defends troops, presses for united Iraqi rule

Iraq's displacement and migration minister survived a roadside bomb attack on her convoy yesterday, police and an official in her office said.

An official in Suhaila Abd Jaafar's office said no one was wounded but police said three guards were injured. It was not clear if the attack was a specific assassination attempt on the minister, because official convoys are often targeted by insurgents.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw yesterday defended British troops caught up in an alleged abuse furore even as he stepped up pressure on Iraqi leaders to form a broad, unified national government.

Straw, who is on his third visit to Baghdad in less than three months, said abuses by security forces occurred even in democracies, but stressed that the alleged abusers in Iraq would be punished.

"You can't eliminate some abuses by security forces even in democracy but what we need to ensure is see where it took place and the perpetuators are punished and that will happen here too," he told a news conference after meeting Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Straw said the soldiers who allegedly committed these abuses were "very tiny" in numbers as compared to the nearly 100,000 British troops who have served in Iraq in the last three years.

"There is a thorough investigation underway and the military has a good record of being very tough in such investigations," he said.

In the video footage, reportedly made in 2004 during street riots in southern Iraq, troops in British combat fatigues are seen dragging four young Iraqi civilians off a street and into an army compound, where they are punched, kicked and hit with batons.

Three people have so far been arrested as part of a British military police investigation into the alleged abuse.

A number of British troops have faced courts martial on abuse charges since the start of military action to oust Saddam in March 2003.