The Government has officially admitted for the first time that the Army is investigating the deaths of 10 Iraqi civilians from "ill-treatment" at the hands of British soldiers.
The new figure, slipped out in a written answer as MPs left Westminster for a two-week break, suggests the level of abuse of civilians by British forces has been greater than previously thought.
Until now, ministers had admitted to five cases involving allegations that Iraqi civilians had died after been beaten or mistreated - including the now notorious case exposed by The Independent on Sunday, of the hotel receptionist Baha Mousa.
Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister, admitted last week that there were 16 cases involving alleged mistreatment of Iraqis under investigation - 10 of which "resulted in the death of a civilian".
Ministry of Defence officials confirmed the cases involve "abuse or ill-treatment" by British troops, and excluded civilians shot dead, killed in traffic accidents or deaths in custody by what was judged to be natural causes.
However, opposition MPs are increasingly critical of the MoD's handling of these cases after the Government's lawyers ordered ministers not to release further details. The MoD claims giving out names and causes of death could prejudice investigations and potential prosecutions.
Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru MP who is pursuing the cases in Parliament, said this contradicted Mr Ingram's promise to MPs in early May that he wanted to "release as much further detail as possible on all these incidents".
"It's simply indefensible. They should be trying to dispel any perception that there is a lack of transparency and accountability. They should be putting as much information out as possible," he said.
Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: "This is the first time the minister for Defence has indicated there were so many cases going on. It's essential that all these allegations are investigated rigorously and expeditiously. If it were to emerge that there has been serious misbehaviour by British forces, then there would be considerable embarrassment in Whitehall."
Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle, a former defence minister, said: "It's extremely unfortunate that it's on the last day when this answer is slipped out. It obviously prevents us from seeking a fuller account of what this answer refers to."
In addition to Baha Mousa, the previously known cases include Hassan Abbad (or Abdul) Said on 2 August 2003, which is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service after the commanding officer of the unnamed regiment involved said his troops had no case to answer.
Other cases include that of Abd Al Jubba Mousa, a primary school headmaster who died last May in Basra after soldiers from the Black Watch allegedly hit him repeatedly on the head with rifle butts and a helmet as they were arresting him. Two soldiers were later sent home.
The fourth case involves the death of Ahmad Jabbar Kareem, 17, who drowned after being allegedly forced to swim a river following a severe beating by British troops in May last year.
In the fifth case, Ather Karim al-Mowafakia, 24, died after being shot and allegedly beaten by a British soldier, after he accidentally hit a soldier with his car door. His body was later exhumed by British investigators.Reuse content