The tape was obtained by the News of the World tabloid newspaper from a whistleblower it did not identify. The footage purportedly shows a street confrontation in which Iraqi youths throw objects at British soldiers and then flee down the street. The cameraman provides narration and urges the soldiers on.
The soldiers apparently chase the Iraqis, catch at least three and drag them through a gate into a fenced-in area, according to the footage. The civilians are then pulled to the ground and beaten by at least five alleged British soldiers with batons and fists. One of the civilians has his shirt ripped off.
The footage then shows what appears to be another group of soldiers dragging in another civilian and beating him with batons.
The newspaper claims the video was filmed in southern Iraq by a corporal two years ago.
The British Government said military police were investigating the allegations.
“We take seriously any allegations of mistreatment and those will be investigated very fully indeed,” Mr Blair said in South Africa while attending a meeting of centre-left politicians.
However, he added that “the overwhelming majority of British troops, in Iraq as elsewhere, behave properly, and are doing a great job for our country and for the wider world”.
“They deserve our fullest support in the work they are doing.”
A British Ministry of Defence spokesman, Brigadier Martin Rutledge, said the images were “extremely disturbing and are the subject of an urgent Royal Military Police investigation”.
Arab satellite television stations, including al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya, replayed the footage yesterday and juxtaposed the images alongside pictures from the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.
Most of Britain’s more than 8,000 troops in Iraq are based in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, about 547 kilometres south-east of Baghdad.
“This is good proof of the violations of human rights being committed by British troops in Basra,” said Akil al-Bahadily, an official from the Basra office of radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
A British military spokesperson in Basra said the abuse allegations involved only a small number of the more than 80,000 British personnel who have served in Iraq since 2003.