Mousa, a 26-year-old hotel worker, suffocated when he was forced to the floor with his arms behind his back as soldiers tried to cuff him, prosecutors said last September.

Iraqi detainees

He was one of a group of Iraqi detainees arrested by the Queen's Lancashire Regiment at a hotel in Basra, southern Iraq, in September 2003, six months after the US-led invasion.

Cases of abuse

-Death of Nadhem Abdullah in May 2003.
A court-martial dismissed murder charges against seven British soldiers.

-Drowning of Saeed Shabram in May 2003. No charges were filed against three soldiers investigated.

-Abuse of Iraqi looters detained in May 2003. A court-martial found four soldiers guilty of various charges.

-Beating of Iraqi youths by British soldiers during a riot in April 2004. No disciplinary action was taken. 

The other men said that they were beaten, hooded, deprived of sleep and made to hold themselves in stressful positions over a 36-hour period.

"All but a handful of the over 120,000 British troops who have served in Iraq have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behaviour, displaying integrity and selfless commitment," Ainsworth said.

"But this does not excuse that during 2003 and 2004 a very small minority committed acts of abuse and we condemn their actions."

Daoud Mousa, Baha's father and an Iraqi police force colonel, said that the government's statement was "a victory".

"Now I can feel that my son's blood wasn't totally lost in vain," he said.

"It seemed as if the ministry of defence wanted to cover the truth and thought that Iraqi lives were cheap. This admission shows that our voices can still be heard and that Iraqi lives do count."

The ministry of defence had previously argued that British troops on overseas operations were not covered by European human rights law.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of human rights group Liberty, and a lawyer for the nine claimants have both called for a full-ranging independent inquiry.

Compensation claims

The government is to admit the breaches in the context of legal action taken on behalf of the men.

"The ministry of defence further accepts that the admitted substantive breaches of the convention give rise to claims for compensation," Browne said.

Claims for compensation have already been lodged with the British courts, but the size of any payment will probably not be decided before June, when lawyers begin talks with the ministry.

The investigation into the events has lasted more than three years at a cost of around $40m.

Seven officers and soldiers were court-martialled in the case of Mousa and the others, but only one was found guilty after admitting mistreatment of prisoners.