You cannot take an allegation as fact, says Bill Rammell
Fresh allegations of abuse by the UK military in Iraq do not warrant a new public inquiry, the Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell has said.
He told the BBC the claims were taken seriously and would be investigated but that allegations did not mean facts.
He said a special unit within the Ministry of Defence, overseen by him, had been set up to examine the claims.
Lawyers for former Iraqi detainees want an inquiry into 33 abuse claims, which include the rape of a 16-year-old boy.
Mr Rammell said there should not be a wider public inquiry because each case first had to be examined and disciplinary action taken if there was evidence of wrongdoing.
He said: "There is no credible evidence that endemic abuse was a coherent part of the way our military operated."
The "vast, vast majority" of the 120,000 British soldiers who had served in Iraq had adhered to "the highest standards of behaviour," he added.
Phil Shiner, Iraqis' lawyer: Abuse in army is 'systematic'
Earlier, Mr Rammell told the BBC seven of the allegations had come in within the last month, and the rest date back "significantly beyond that period".
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 in 2003, 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: "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.
Mr Shiner is asking for a judicial review of the cases.
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
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."
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 that only a full public inquiry would establish what had really happened.
He described meeting the 16-year-old 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," he said.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.