| US prisoners of war being interviewed by Iraqi TV allegedly in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. (AFP)
Baghdad, March 23 (Reuters): Iraqi television today showed video of at least four bodies, said to be of US soldiers, and five prisoners, who said they were Americans, taken in a battle near the southern city of An Nasiriyah.
The video showed two rooms, each containing what appeared to be two separate groups of four bodies in military uniform. Two prisoners, including a woman, appeared to be wounded. One was lying on the floor on a rug.
They were the first US prisoners known to have been taken by Iraq since US-led forces invaded four days ago to overthrow President Saddam Hussein. The prisoners gave their names and home towns and one provided his military identification number.
In Washington, US defence officials said a small number of US troops had apparently been captured and others killed by the Iraqi military, and that they were notifying families based on information from the videotape.
President George W. Bush today said he had been briefed on the reported capture of US prisoners of war by Iraq and said he expected them to be treated humanely.
“We don’t know all the details yet. We do know that we expect them to be treated humanely just like we are treating the prisoners of theirs that we capture humanely,” Bush told reporters as he returned to the White House from the Camp David Presidential retreat.
The bodies and prisoners were shown on Iraqi television, relayed by the Arabic network Al-Jazeera, which said the dead and wounded had been taken during a battle at the town of Souq al-Shuyukh, southeast of the southern Iraqi city of An Nasiriyah where US forces have encountered stiff resistance.
US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the video apparently showing American prisoners of war was a violation of the Geneva Convention. The International Committee of the Red Cross agreed the footage violated the convention.
The dead bodies were strewn on the floor in pools of blood. In the first room, at least two had head wounds and another had a groin wound. In the second room, a smiling Iraqi uncovered the bodies, several of which had blackened faces.
The first prisoner shown gave his name as Miller and said he was from Kansas. Asked why he had come to Iraq, he replied: “Because I was told to come here. I was just under orders. I was told to shoot — only if I’m shot at. I don’t want to kill anybody.”
Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan had announced earlier that enemy soldiers captured at Souq al-Shuyukh would soon be shown on state TV.
General Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC television some Americans — fewer than 10 — were missing in southern Iraq, but a defence official said later that the exact numbers of prisoners were unclear.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the missing US personnel were probably members of a maintenance unit that was operating in southern Iraq, but did not say how many were missing, citing numbers from eight to 12.
Two of the prisoners shown by Iraqi TV said they were from the 507th Maintenance Company. The 507th Corps Support Group provides supplies, equipment, repairs and maintenance and would usually provide support as far forward as possible to the 82nd Airborne Division, the 3rd Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division.
US officers said Marines battling Iraqi guerrillas for An Nasiriyah, on the Euphrates river about 375 km southeast of Baghdad, had taken “significant” casualties in a fight to open a route north to the Iraqi capital. The second prisoner shown, who gave his name as Joseph Hudson, said he came from El Paso, Texas. Asked why he had come to Iraq, he said: “I follow orders.” He was asked repeatedly whether he was greeted by guns or flowers by Iraqis, but appeared not to understand the question.
A third man, who appeared to have a broken arm, was lying on a red patterned rug, but was pulled into a sitting position to answer questions. He gave his name as Edgar from Texas and only said he had entered Iraq from Kuwait. A fourth prisoner gave his name as Sergeant James Riley from New Jersey and said he was 31 years old. He appeared to be in shock, turning his head from side to side.
The fifth, an African American woman who gave her name as Shawna, said she was 30 and had a bandaged ankle.
Appearing on CBS television, Rumsfeld was shown the footage of the soldiers. “That’s a violation of the Geneva Convention, those pictures you showed,” he said of the international law on treatment of prisoners of war, which he said prohibits the photographing or interrogation by media of those captured in battle. Pictures of Iraqi soldiers surrendering to US-led forces in that last few days have been features prominently on US television and newspapers.