Ministry of Defence investigating fresh Iraq abuse claims

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The Independent Online

Some 33 allegations of abuse involving British soldiers who served in Iraq are being investigated, the Ministry of Defence said today.

The rape, torture and physical assault allegations come in the wake of the British withdrawal from Iraq.

One claimant says he was raped by two British soldiers while another claims he was sexually humiliated by both male and female personnel. Others allege they were stripped naked and photographed in the same style as the notorious pictures at Abu Ghraib, where abuses of prisoners by US troops helped fuel anti-American sentiment.

British soldiers have faced a series of claims that they mistreated Iraqi civilians in southern Iraq during six years of combat operations. Last year, Britain settled a legal case involving the death of one Iraqi civilian, and the abuse of nine others, paying out nearly £3m in compensation.

A public inquiry is still under way into the death of hotel worker Baha Mousa. He died in the custody of British troops following a raid on his hotel in the southern Iraq city of Basra in 2003 and suffered 93 separate injuries. British Cpl. Donald Payne pleaded guilty to inhumanely treating Iraqi civilians in Britain's first war crimes conviction.

"Given the history of the U.K.'s involvement in the development of these techniques alongside the US, it is deeply concerning that there appears to be strong similarities between instances of the use of sexual humiliation," Phil Shiner, the lawyer representing the Iraqis who made the claims, said in a letter to the Ministry of Defense. He said some Iraqis are coming forward now since the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq this year.

The Ministry of Defence said the allegations were being taken seriously.

"Over 120,000 British troops have served in Iraq and the vast majority have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behavior, displaying integrity and selfless commitment," the ministry said in a statement. "There have been instances when individuals have behaved badly but only a tiny number have been shown to have fallen short of our high standards. Allegations of this nature are taken very seriously but must not be taken as fact. Formal investigations must be allowed to take their course."

Armed forces minister Bill Rammell said any new claims of mistreatment will be investigated.

In one of the most serious allegations, a 16-year-old boy claimed that he was among a group of Iraqis in May 2003 who were taken to the Shatt-al-Arab British camp to help fill sandbags. In a statement reported by The Independent, he alleged when he entered a room to get more sandbags he saw two British male soldiers engaged in oral sex. When he tried to leave, he alleges the men started to beat and kick him. When he fell to the floor, he claims one of the men held a blade to his neck while the other soldier stripped him naked. He claims the two British soldiers, one after the other, raped him.

In another claim, a 24-year-old Iraqi said he was playing football with friends in April 2007 when he was approached by British soldiers in vehicles and taken to a British base with another youth. When he arrived at the camp, he was allegedly surrounded by six to eight soldiers who ordered two of the young men to pick fights with one another. He alleges that the soldiers then stood on top of them and shouted and laughed.

Another 35-year-old carpenter said he was arrested in April 2006 and taken to the British camp at Shaaibah where he alleges he was subjected to sexual abuse and humiliation by both male and female soldiers.

He alleged soldiers used to watch pornographic films and would play loud music when he tried to pray. He also alleged that female soldiers exposed themselves or taunted him sexually. He alleged a soldier in the observation tower used to point the laser spot of his gun at his penis when he was in the toilet.

At the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, female guards and interrogators were documented as using aggressive and sexually charged techniques with the detainees, most of whom were Muslim.

It was unclear when results of the investigation would be released.

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