'Better ways'

The three-year inquiry was commissioned following allegations of mistreatment of prisoners, including Iraqi hotel receptionist Mousa and Ahmed Jabber Kareem, who drowned after allegedly being forced to swim across the Shatt al-Arab River.

The report said that there was no evidence of systematic abuse by troops but accepted that the army "needs to find better ways to entrench its core values and standards of behaviour and discipline into the everyday lives of personnel".

It said military police had in some cases been "hugely hampered" as they tried to collect enough evidence for successful prosecutions, in one case, the family of a dead man declined to hand over his body for tests.

The inquiry's findings sparked an angry response from Mousa's father, who said it underplayed the role of the army's senior officers.

"As a senior officer in the Iraqi army, I am clear that these terrible actions could not have taken place without support from senior officers within the British army, Daoud Mousa said. 

"I do not accept this report for a second."

At a court martial last year, six officers were cleared over the incident, while one admitted inhumane treatment and was jailed for one year.

'Rightly critical'

Reacting to its findings, General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the army, said that he took "no pride in the conduct of those of our people, however few, who took it upon themselves to deliberately abuse Iraqi civilians during 2003 and the early part of 2004."

But he added that steps had already been taken to make sure it never happened again 

"This report is rightly critical of our performance in a number of areas and it catalogues the significant number of steps we have already taken toward ensuring that such behavior is not repeated," Dannat said.

However, Colonel Jorge Mendonca, who was cleared at a court martial last year of negligence in relation to Mousa's death and other abuse cases, said that the failures identified were a result of there being too few troops on the ground.

"None of that is addressed in the report, which I find deeply distressing," Mendonca, who later resigned from the army, said.

"If you send a small group of soldiers into a difficult situation, it seems to be pretty rich to then expect everything to go swimmingly and then blame a few commanders on the ground when things go wrong."


Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, which has represented Iraqi civilians, dismissed the report as a "whitewash" and said there was already clear evidence that abuse had been "rife". 

"What is important to understand is that the High Court will shortly have to decide whether to hold an independent and public inquiry into the UK's detention policy in Iraq," he said.

Britain's defence secretary described the 
abuses as 'appalling incidents' [AP]
Browne announced that no further action would be taken in the Mousa case in a statement to parliament, saying: "The criminal review concluded that no further criminal lines of inquiry could be pursued on the basis of the existing evidence.

"This does not mean that a further investigation will not be instigated should new evidence be made available.

"The next step is to consider what form any future inquiry into these appalling incidents should take," he said. 

Later this year, the High Court in London is to hear a legal bid to force an inquiry into the situation from a group of Iraqi families who claim that British soldiers abused their relatives.

Amnesty International, a human rights group, also called for a fully independent investigation after the report was published.