The photos prompted an angry US military to launch an investigation and the Red Cross to say the photos may violate the Geneva Conventions.

Britain's The Sun and the New York Post said the photos were provided by a US military official they did not identify.

The photos not only angered the US military, which issued a condemnation rare for its immediacy, but also were expected to further fuel anti-American sentiment in a country edging toward open sectarian conflict.

'Insult to humanity'

Saddam Hussein's chief lawyer, Ziad al-Khasawneh, said his legal team was preparing a lawsuit against the Sun for publishing what he said represented "an insult to humanity, Arabs and the Iraqi people".

Photos of  captured Saddam
Hussein caused controversy 

"It is clear that the pictures were taken inside the prison which means that American soldiers have leaked the pictures," he said by telephone from Amman, Jordan.

"We will sue the newspaper and everyone who helped in showing these pictures."

He said they were part "of a comprehensive war against the Islamic and Arab nations" that included the abuse at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison and allegations about a Quran desecration at an American prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

'Iconic'

Sun managing editor Graham Dudman defended the decision to print the pictures and defied any media outlet to have withheld publication.

"They are a fantastic, iconic set of news pictures that I defy any newspaper, magazine, or television station who were presented with them not to have published," he said.

Asked to respond to criticism of the decision to publish the photos, Dudman said: "This is a man who has murdered a minimum of 300,000 people and we're supposed to feel sorry for him because someone's taken his picture?"

"He's not been mistreated. He's washing his trousers. This is the modern-day Adolf Hitler. Please don't ask us to feel sorry for him."

Investigation

The sentiments of people on the streets seemed to reflect the divisions now plaguing Iraq.

"This is an insult to show the former president in such a condition. Saddam Hussein is from the past now, so what is the reason for this? It is bad work from the media. Do they want to degrade the Iraqi people? Or they want to provoke their feelings," said Baghdad businessman Abu Barick, 45.

There were mixed feelings about
the photos among Iraqis

US President George Bush was briefed by senior aides on Friday morning about the photos' existence and "strongly supports the aggressive and thorough investigation that is already underway" that seeks to find who took them, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.

With that inquiry ongoing, he would not comment on how the
pictures may affect the US image abroad.

"The investigation needs to take place and the president supports that," Duffy said.

Mixed reaction

Iraqis gathered in coffee shops in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq watched as some Arab satellite networks showed the front page of The Sun, with its picture  of Saddam Hussein standing in his underwear.

Other photos show him clothed and seated on a chair doing some washing, sleeping and walking in what is described as his prison yard.

In northern Kirkuk, Marwan Ibrahim, a 31-year-old civil servant, said the pictures were a "humiliation for a man who in the near past was the leader of Iraq and a top Arab leader in the region."

Others, however, were not so kind.

"Saddam Hussein and his regime were bloody and practiced mass killing against the people, therefore, whatever happens to Saddam, whether he is photographed naked or washing his clothes, it means nothing to me. That's the least he deserves," Hawre Saliee, a 38-year-old Kurd, said.

Contravening rules

The US military in Baghdad said the photos violated military guidelines "and possibly Geneva Convention guidelines for the humane treatment of detained individuals".

Al-Khasawneh (L): The pictures
were meant to humiliate Arabs

"The specific issue here is that these images are against (Department of Defence) policy. It's not the content of the photo that is the issue at hand, but it is the existence or
release of the photos," US military spokesman Staff Sergeant Don Dees said.

He added that the military would question the troops holding Saddam Hussein as part of its investigation.

"We take seriously our responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all detainees," a military statement said.

The military said the source of the photos was not immediately known, but they were believed to have been taken more than a year ago.

Law of the jungle

The International Committee for the Red Cross, which is responsible for monitoring prisoners of war and detainees, said the photographs violated Saddam Hussein's right to privacy.

"Taking and using photographs of him is clearly forbidden," ICRC Middle East spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas said. US forces are obliged to "preserve the privacy of the detainee".

Aside from US soldiers, the only others with access to Saddam Hussein are his legal team, prosecuting judge Raed Johyee
and the ICRC.

Khalil al-Duleimi, Saddam Hussein's defence lawyer in Iraq, criticised the American handling of Saddam Hussein but said he would not comment on the photographs until he learned whether they were genuine.

"I don't doubt such behavior from the American forces because they don't respect the law. They impose the law of force and the law of the jungle," al-Duleimi said about the pictures being taken. "They don't respect human rights and I expect them to do anything."

Capture controversy

Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003 while hiding in a concealed hole in the ground near his hometown of Tikrit, 128km north of Baghdad. He is charged with war crimes, but no date has been set for his trial. 

President Bush is said to have
supported a thorough probe

It is not the first time there has been an outcry over images of Saddam Hussein.

Pictures and video images of Saddam Hussein being examined by a medic after his arrest were widely criticised - even by the Vatican. A top Vatican cardinal said at the time that American forces treated the captured Iraqi leader "like a cow".