The US army said on Monday that a battalion commander and a company commander were among the suspended soldiers who worked at a prison west of Baghdad.

"We can confirm that 17 personnel have been suspended from duty pending the outcome of the investigation," a US military spokesman said.

Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground forces in Iraq, last month ordered an investigation into reports that prisoners had been abused at Abu Ghraib jail.

The prison was notorious during Saddam Hussein's rule and is now run by US forces.

Beating and kicking

However, the army gave no details of the alleged abuse.

On 5 January, US authorities said three soldiers had been discharged for abusing Iraqi prisoners of war at another detention camp.

The three were found guilty of beating, kicking and harassing prisoners at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.

Ricardo Sanchez ordered the
probe after abuse allegations

US authorities have also said they are investigating the treatment of three Iraqis working for Reuters and one working for US network NBC.

The men were detained on 2 January while covering the aftermath of the shooting down of a US helicopter and were held near the town of Falluja for three days.

Reuters made a formal protest last month to the American military about the treatment of the Reuters team while in detention.

Death in custody

The 17 suspensions come weeks after a former marine guard testified it was common practice in Iraq to kick and punch prisoners who didn't cooperate – and even some who did.

Lance Corporal William Roy said guards often abused prisoners at the Camp White Horse detention centre, near Nasiriya.

Roy was testifying at a preliminary hearing into the death of Nagem Sadoon Hatab, an Iraqi prisoner at Camp White Horse.

Although guards beat and choked Hatab before he died in their custody, the investigating officer said he had not seen evidence to substantiate charges of negligent homicide against two marines in the case.

US occupation forces in Iraq are holding up to 10,000 Iraqi prisoners of war in camps around the country.