'Why did they force my son into the water?'

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When the 17-year-old failed to return home, in one of the poorest parts of Baghdad, the family went on a search. They returned to find waiting for them a young man, Ayad Salim Hannoun, with a horrific tale.

He claimed that Ahmed had been ordered into a river by British troops, and had drowned. The account he gave to the family, and then Iraqi police and British military authorities, will be key evidence in a war crimes trial of troops charged with inhumane treatment.

Ahmed, according to Ayad, was in an area near al-Sa'ad Square when a British patrol came under fire. Afterwards he was among four youths, including Ayad, who were arrested, and put into an armoured personnel carrier. The young men were frightened and promised to tell each other's families if any of them came to harm.

They were taken, along with civilians injured by gunfire, to the Republican Hospital where they were found to be unhurt. Then, Ayad maintained, they were taken to a bridge over the river Zubair, a tributary of the Tigris, and ordered, by the soldiers, it is alleged, to jump in and swim. Ayad and two of the others were strong swimmers and managed to cross the waterway. But Ahmed could not swim and drowned. Ayad said in his written statement that he saw the boy frantically struggling and waving before going under.

Mrs Kareem said: "We are pleased to hear the news from London. It has taken a very long time, and we do not know how much longer it will be. We have not been told anything. The British and the Iraqi police do not keep in touch with us.

"At the time of Ahmed's loss when we heard what happened we rushed over to the river. I was crying and so were the other children. We were stopping people on the bridge and along the shore begging them to tell us if they had seen Ahmed. I was hoping that people had seen that he could not swim, maybe even the soldiers, and pulled him out."

Ahmed's father, Jabbar Kareem Ali, went to the local police station at al- Hussain with Ayad where their statements were taken down. Mrs Kareem recalled: "The next few days were so bad, so terrible. I used to go beside the river and wait. I knew by then that my son had gone, but I thought maybe the body would be found."

Ahmed was buried in the holy city of Najaf. British investigators wanted to exhume the body but the family insisted that it should not be disturbed during the 40 days of mourning. After that time, the body was taken to the American hospital in Najaf for a post-mortem examination. Ahmed's family are angry that they were not informed. The Army says that it acted in the interest of justice.

"Why did they force him into the water?" asked Mrs Kareem. "Maybe they were joking, but they must know there are some people who cannot swim."

Ahmed's case was highlighted by a civil rights group, the Iraqi League. Its chairman, Mazan Younis, helped the family bring a High Court civil case through the Birmingham solicitors, Public Interest Lawyers.

Ahmed's father said: "I was distraught about the events that led to my son's death. As a parent my feelings are deeply hurt and I am suffering great sadness. Trying to discover how my son died and pressing for an investigation has left me exhausted."

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