The unspecified payouts - which media said were in the thousands of pounds - included payment to the family of an Iraqi man whose family said was tortured to death by British soldiers while holding him in custody.

"We can confirm that a compensation payment has been made for the deceased, Mr (Baha) Mousa," a Ministry of Defence spokesman said. "This doesn't represent an admission of guilt or responsibility from any soldier. An investigation is under way."

The MoD said that since the 1 May end of formal hostilities, Iraqis had submitted 23 claims for compensation "in connection with alleged fatalities involving UK forces".
 
Of those, seven had been rejected, 13 were still under investigation and three had received compensation, it said.

"We take our legal obligations very seriously," the spokesman added. "But I would stress that where we've made a payment, it doesn't amount to an admission of guilt."
 
The ministry declined to give more information on the cases.

'Caked in blood'

Baha Musa, 26, died in British custody in September after soldiers arrested him and seven other young Iraqis in the southern city of Basra. His body was returned to his family four days later battered and caked with blood.

There are 23 claims by kin of dead
Iraqis against British troops

His nose and wrist were broken and bruises covered his body, Musa's father Dawud told Reuters in October. Dawud said he believed Musa, a hotel receptionist and father-of-two, had been tortured to death.

The MoD said a military police unit, not linked to the soldiers' regiment, was investigating the case.

Another Iraqi arrested at the same time, 44-year-old Kefa Taha, was later admitted to hospital with "renal failure, rhabdomyolysis and severe bruising to his upper abdomen and the right side of his chest", according to British army hospital
records in Basra.

Britain was Washington's chief ally in the March invasion to oust former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and has more than 10,000 troops there, mainly in the south.