by MONITOR
ANY hope that British and American forces in Iraq were “winning hearts and minds” evaporated long ago. The best that could be hoped for was that they would keep the worst of the insurgency under control while training the Iraq police and army to a sufficiently high standard that they would be able to maintain security in the country after the occupiers had departed. But the video apparently showing eight British soldiers assaulting four unarmed youths to the accompaniment of mindless encouragement from the soldier with the camera will put the eighty thousand British servicemen under further pressure from a population that is already hostile to their presence and wants to see the back of them as soon as possible. There have been assurances from the army and from ministers that what the video showed was an isolated incident quite atypical of the general behaviour of the British forces in Iraq. This may well be so, but the effect of this single incident will be multiplied many times by the repetition of the video on local television in Iraq and more widely throughout the Arab world. It is obviously critical that, if the video is authentic, the soldiers concerned should be identified and put on trial as soon as possible and, if found guilty, given exemplary sentences. This sickening incident is made worse by the presence of an NCO and the occasional passing soldier who looks but takes no action to put a stop to it. Although it has only just been unearthed by The News of the World it probably took place in 2004. How many more time bombs of this kind are waiting to explode into public knowledge? British and American troops are under intolerable pressure arising from the midjudgements and folly of their political leaders. That is not to excuse them when they do wrong but it is to underline the fact that an early withdrawal from Iraq becomes more urgent by the day.