LONDON -- In the wake of Iraq's threat to use captured allied fliers as human shields, Britain revealed yesterday that it was holding two Iraqi servicemen, initially detained as security risks, as prisoners of war.
The parading of two Royal Air Force officers -- a Tornado fighter-bomber pilot and navigator -- on Iraqi television alongside three U.S. and two other allied fliers outraged the British government and was condemned as a breach of the Geneva Convention.
The government asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to gain access to the prisoners.
It said the two Iraqi servicemen, among 130 Iraqis detained or deported by Britain since hostilities in the gulf began, would be held under conditions laid down in the Geneva Convention.
Defense Secretary Tom King said, "Anyone who saw the statements . . . [of the prisoners] the remarkable uniformity of the statements, the voices in which they were delivered, I think would have the gravest suspicions of the means that may have been used [by the Iraqis] to achieve those statements for their own political purposes."
In a House of Commons debate on the war, Prime Minister John Major said the broadcasts were "wholly objectionable in every respect."
He warned that any use of the captured airmen as human shields would be "inhuman, illegal, totally contrary" to internationally recognized standards.
Opposition leader Neil Kinnock said, "Saddam Hussein may wear the uniform of a soldier. He certainly doesn't face the risks of a soldier or follow any soldier's code that I know of."
The Iraqi ambassador to London, Azmi Shafiq al-Salihi, was summoned to the Foreign Office to be told that the threat to use the prisoners as human shields at scientific and economic sites was "wholly outrageous."
The Iraqi envoy was warned that officers involved in POW treatment would be held personally responsible for their acts.
Douglas Hogg, the Foreign Office minister who confronted the ambassador, said Mr. al-Salihi "shilly-shallied" in his response, and sought to make the point that the fate of the prisoners was dependent on there being no more allied attacks on civilian targets in Iraq.
Later the ambassador told reporters, "If the aggressors want them to be safe, they should stop attacking our installations."
He defended the television screening of the airmen, saying, "They haven't been asked other than ordinary questions."
The family of one of the fliers, Flight Lt. Adrian Nichol, 27, confirmed his identity, but "for the sake of the well-being and safety of our son" declined to make any further comment.
The other flier was identified as Flight Lt. John Peters, 26. The two were the crew of a Tornado fighter-bomber that was reported missing on the second day of the war. On television, Lieutenant Nichol said their plane had been shot down.
Britain has lost three planes in action and one in a takeoff crash, a higher ratio than that of the other nations involved in the air war. The official explanation here is that the Tornado is specifically designed to attack enemy air bases, among the most heavily defended and dangerous of targets.
They carry the JP-233 cratering device, which drops dozens of bombs and mines onto base runways, or ALARM anti-radar missiles. The attacks are carried out at low altitude and at night, adding to the risks.
Mr. King told a news conference that eight to 10 more Iraqi mobile Scud missile launchers had been identified by the allies and that three of those may have been destroyed. He said all the spotted launchers were being attacked.