Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Saturday, 14 November 2009

MoD probes new Iraq abuse claims

Phil Shiner, Iraqis' lawyer: Abuse in army is 'systematic'

The Ministry of Defence has said it is investigating new allegations of abuse by the UK military in Iraq.

Lawyers acting for former Iraqi detainees are calling for a full public inquiry into 33 abuse claims made during UK military involvement there.

One allegation is that two soldiers raped a 16-year-old boy in 2003.

Armed forces minister Bill Rammell said such claims were taken seriously but formal inquiries must be held "without judgements being made prematurely".

"Allegations of this nature are taken very seriously. However allegations must not be taken as fact," he said.

Mr Rammell told the BBC "about seven of them have come in within the last month".

"The rest of them are cases that date back significantly beyond that period and they are being investigated. Any allegation of abuse is taken with the utmost seriousness."

'Sexually humiliated'

A public inquiry is already under way into the death of Iraqi civilian Baha Mousa, who died in British custody with 93 separate injuries.

A report by the Independent newspaper said 33 cases of alleged abuse had now come to light.

One claimant alleges he was raped by two British soldiers, while others say they were stripped naked, abused and photographed, the Independent said.

Another detainee said that when he was arrested he was kicked and hit, and an electric baton was used on parts of his body.

A fellow Iraqi, detained in 2006, claimed he was sexually humiliated.

The lawyers said that since the British withdrawal from Basra in the summer, they had heard a host of allegations of abuse dating back to 2003.

Mr Rammell added: "Over 120,000 British troops have served in Iraq and the vast, vast majority have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behaviour, displaying integrity and selfless commitment," he said.

"While there have been instances when individuals have behaved badly, only a tiny number of individuals have been shown to have fallen short of our high standards."

A legal letter was given to the MoD last week by the Iraqis' lawyer, Phil Shiner.

'Random detentions'

Mr Shiner is asking for a judicial review of the cases.

He said: "I have it on good authority that there are hundreds of cases that are going uninvestigated.

"But if you are an Iraqi and terrible things have happened to you then how would you know that we have a judicial system in this country to deal with it?

"My guess is that many of them will remain buried."

While there have been instances when individuals have behaved badly, only a tiny number of individuals have been shown to have fallen short of our high standards
Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell

Mazin Younis, the Iraqi human rights campaigner who has been compiling the allegations, said many alleged victims waited years before coming forward because they were afraid of what would happen if they complained.

"They all feared that the British would come back and punish them. Now the British are out," he told the BBC.

He said many people were detained at random and abused.

"The norm, kind of is for a large number of troops - 50 to 100 - to raid a house, take all the men with them.

"When I say take them they will be beating, kicking them and hooding them."

Mr Younis said some of the alleged cases were similar to cases of sexual humiliation seen at the US detention centre Abu Ghraib.

And he described meeting the 16 year boy who said he had been raped by two soldiers.

"I met this boy and it was extremely difficult taking his statement because he broke into tears many times and I had to comfort him."

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