Hoon agrees to review 13 alleged murders by troops

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The Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, has ordered his officials to re-examine 13 cases of alleged murder by UK troops in Iraq after mounting protests from human rights groups.

The Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, has ordered his officials to re-examine 13 cases of alleged murder by UK troops in Iraq after mounting protests from human rights groups.

The review, which will examine several deaths highlighted last week by the The Independent on Sunday, was prompted by Amnesty International's allegations that Army investigations into the deaths were flawed and effectively a whitewash.

Until now, the Ministry of Defence had insisted that its investigations into deaths in custody and the shootings of unarmed civilians had been carried out rigorously. But the claim is being openly questioned by MPs.

The pressure on Mr Hoon intensified after Amnesty wrote to Tony Blair last month, criticising the Government's refusal to set up an independent investigation into the growing number of suspicious deaths. At least 37 cases have come to light so far.

Three weeks ago, Amnesty published a damning report on some British troops in Iraq, accusing regiments of involvement in the deaths of nine unarmed civilians in Basra and Amara, and of firing on unarmed demonstrators. But then it sent Mr Blair a letter raising a further four cases. This letter was forwarded to Mr Hoon, forcing him to give the controversy greater attention.

An MoD spokesman yesterday confirmed that the "specific" cases would be checked and that Mr Hoon had ordered an investigation.

Until now, the MoD had repeatedly rejected MPs' requests for a release of detailed information on the cases. However, Mr Hoon faces a High Court hearing, in July, into demands by human rights lawyers and civil rights campaigners for a full independent inquiry into British forces' behaviour in Iraq.

This development follows the admission by Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister, disclosed by the IoS last week, that the MoD is investigating 10 cases of Iraqisdying through alleged mistreatment by British troops - a greater number than previously acknowledged.

The cases now being reviewed after Amnesty's intervention include that of Ahmad Jabbar Kareem, a teenager who drowned after allegedly being forced to swim in a river following a severe beating by British troops. This incident is one of more than 20 suspect deaths being presented at a High Court hearing next month.

Amnesty yesterday was awaiting a reply from Mr Blair to its letter. The cases the charity has raised are thought to include that of Abd al-Jubba Mousa, a headmaster allegedly beaten to death by Black Watch soldiers as they arrested him in Basra.

One of the most difficult cases for the MoD involves the death of Radi Nu'ma, also known as Radhi Natna, who suffered a heart attack during an interrogation by the Royal Military Police in May last year. In February, Mr Ingram told MPs that that case was closed because the Army had ruled that Mr Nu'ma died of "natural causes" - a verdict reached after an inquiry by RMP detectives.

Amnesty is contesting that decision and has accused the RMP of a cover-up. "We're calling for a full, prompt and impartial, civilian investigation into this case," an Amnesty official said. "We're not satisfied that the RMP is the right body to investigate this."

Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru MP who has tabled many parliamentary questions on the Iraqi cases, said: "The decision to review these cases is the clearest admission yet of serious deficiencies in the Army's investigative procedures."

International law, he said, demanded an independent inquiry into the deaths and into the previous failure to investigate them promptly.