The office of Prime Minister Tony Blair, the US strongest ally in its war in Iraq, condemned the abuses.

His comments on Friday came after an American television network broadcast images of Iraqis stripped naked, hooded and being tormented by their captors. 

One photograph showed Iraqi prisoners naked except for hoods covering their heads and stacked in a human pyramid.

The CBS network, which broadcast the pictures in the US on Wednesday, said they were taken at Abu Ghuraib prison near Baghdad late last year. 

"The US army spokesman has said this morning that he is appalled, that those responsible have let their fellow soldiers down, and those are views that we would associate the UK government with," Blair's official spokesman said. 

"This is not representative of the 150,000 soldiers that are in Iraq," the spokesman said, adding that the occupation should not be judged on the alleged actions of a few.

British military authorities are themselves investigating eight separate "allegations of maltreatment" by their troops in southern Iraq.

'Absolutely terrible'

Blair's human rights envoy to Iraq, Ann Clwyd, also condemned the alleged abuse. 

"I think they are absolutely terrible," she told BBC radio, referring to the photographs. "I am shocked." 

"I think they are absolutely terrible. Im shocked"

Ann Clwyd,
UK human rights envoy to Iraq

Clwyd said she had previously discussed the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghuraib with officials in President George Bush's administration, but said they had denied there was a problem. 

"I was told by a very senior person there 'We don't do this kind of thing,"' said Clwyd, a lawmaker in Blair's ruling Labour party and supporter of the US-led war in Iraq. "Clearly the people in charge did not know this was going on." 

'Culture of hate'

The editor in chief of the London-based Arabic daily al-Quds al-Arabi denied statements that this incident was the work of rogue soldiers.

"This is the outcome of the culture of hate that the US administration adopts against the Arabs and Muslims,"  Abd al-Bari Atwan told Aljazeera.net. 

A prisoner is hooded and wired up
for a mock electrocution

"They (the Americans) removed Saddam Hussein for acts of abuse, but who will remove Bush and Rumsfeld for inciting these acts?"

Atwan added that the pictures were proof that the US administration had lost "the battle of winning the hearts and minds not only in Iraq but in the whole Muslim world."

Human rights watchdog, Amnesty International also said the incident was not an isolated case. "Our extensive research in Iraq suggests that this is not an isolated incident. It is not enough for the USA to react only once images have hit the television screens".

White House response

The White House on Friday denounced the alleged abuse, saying the United States "will not tolerate" such behavior and vowing that those responsible will be punished.

US authorities have promised to
punish those responsible

"We cannot tolerate it," spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. "The military is taking strong action against the individuals responsible for these despicable acts." 

US President George  Bush has known about the allegations of misconduct "for a while" and expects "appropriate action to be taken against these individuals," he said. "We will not tolerate it."

Private contractors

The abuses have thrown the spotlight on the shadowy world of private contractors.

A military report into the Abu Ghuraib case - parts of which were made available to the Guardian newspaper showed that private contractors were supervising interrogations in the prison.

One civilian contractor was accused of raping a young, male prisoner but has not been charged because military law has no jurisdiction over him.

The military investigation names two US contractors, CACI International and the Titan Corporation, for their involvement in Abu Ghuraib.