British soldiers forced a boy of 14 to carry out an act of oral sex on a fellow male prisoner in Iraq, according to shocking new allegations made about the behaviour of British troops.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed yesterday that the Royal Military Police (RMP) have launched an investigation. If the allegations are proved, it would mark a sordid low in the behaviour of British troops in Iraq, and damage further the reputation of Britain in the Middle East.
The victim, now 19, whom The Independent on Sunday has agreed to identify only as Hassan, says he was rounded up with a friend while trying to steal milk cartons from a food distribution centre. He was whipped, beaten and forced to strip naked.
"They made us sit on each other's laps," he said. "They were enjoying humiliating and abusing us, I wished I was dead at this moment. Then they made me sit with Tariq... where I was forced to put Tariq's penis in my mouth. The other two were made to do the same."
Court action is ongoing over a series of allegations surrounding the British base Camp Breadbasket and incidents that took place there in May 2003. There have been allegations of simulated sexual abuse of Iraqis by British troops, but this, if true, would be the first example of actual sexual abuse.
Soldiers rounding up looters as part of an operation codenamed Ali Baba took photographs of prisoners suspended in nets from forklift trucks and others forced to strip naked and adopt simulated sex positions.
The photographs caused outrage around the world when they were published, after a British soldier took them to be developed at a high-street shop. An RMP investigation led to just four soldiers being jailed for up to two years in 2005. A number of the alleged victims, including Hassan, are suing the MoD for damages.
The MoD last Thursday reiterated its official line that abuse was isolated to just a few rogue soldiers, after agreeing to pay nearly £3m compensation to the father of Baha Mousa, 26, a hotel receptionist beaten to death by British soldiers while in custody in a separate incident in September 2003, and nine other Iraqis beaten at the same time.
Mazin Younis, of the Iraqi League, who has travelled in Basra collecting witness statements of allegations of abuse, says he now has "more than 80" cases involving allegations against British troops.
"Every single time I uncover a personal story of torture and humiliation in Iraq, I think to myself that I have seen the worst there is," Mr Younis added. "Then I hear the next story.
"Hassan shook with emotion and humiliation as he described to me the treatment he suffered at the hands of British soldiers five years ago. It had taken constant prompting and repeated reminders about the importance of detail before Hassan felt brave enough to describe how he was forced to engage in oral sex with his friend Tariq while their British captors laughed raucously and took photographs."
Such is the culture in Iraq that Hassan fears for his life if identified. It has taken him four years to find the courage to talk about the incident, Mr Younis said. He fled Basra after the incident, giving up his education and staying indoors for fear that someone may recognise him.
Mr Younis added: "There is, of course, no case as bad as a killing or murder. But the fact that this is sexual ... It can lead to suicide because it is so humiliating. Hassan fled Basra because he couldn't face his friends, the people who had seen this.
"He left education and is now unemployed. He has been very, very traumatised. It is the kind of thing that is very difficult to admit to or talk about. No one expected the British to be worse than Saddam Hussein."
Mr Younis said the more than 80 allegations of abuse will form the basis of a series of actions at the European Court of Human Rights, as many of them took place outside British bases and are therefore outside British jurisdiction.
Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, has represented many of the Iraqis who allege abuse at the hands of British troops, including Baha Mousa's family and Hassan. "It should be a national scandal that representatives of the British state could have engaged in such appalling behaviour," he said. "I call on the British government to immediately set up an inquiry into this incident."
The Labour MP Harry Cohen also joined calls for an investigation. "We need to have a full inquiry into how we keep prisoners. It obviously needs a complete overhaul," he said.
An MoD spokesman said yesterday: "We can confirm that a new allegation has been received in relation to the alleged abuse of a 14-year-old boy by British soldiers at Camp Breadbasket in May 2003.
"The allegation has been referred to the Royal Military Police, and efforts are in the process of being made to contact the alleged victim as soon as possible.
"All but a handful of the more than 120,000 British troops who have served in Iraq have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behaviour, displaying integrity and selfless commitment. All allegations of abuse are investigated thoroughly and – where proven – those responsible are punished and the abused are compensated.
"The Army has done a great deal since the cases of abuse related to the death of Baha Mousa in 2003. Procedures and training have been improved. But we are not complacent and continue to demand the very highest standards of conduct from all our troops."
A case to answer
Beaten to death in September 2003. Nine others also mistreated. MoD agreed to £2.83m compensation payout last week and will hold a full inquiry into the abuse.
Prisoners beaten, forced to strip and simulate sex in May 2003. Subject of damages claim by 11 of the victims.
Twenty Iraqi civilians allegedly executed at British base in Abu Naji in May 2004. Five survivors bringing a claim for damages.
Jabbir Hmoud Kammash
70-year-old tribal leader is bringing action over claims he was hooded and beaten during a raid at his home in Basra in April last year.
Ahmer Jabbar Kareem and Ayad Salim Hanoon
Teenagers forced to swim a canal, resulting in the drowning of Kareem, 15. Kareem's father and Hanoon are pursuing a claim for damages.
Hassan's statement: 'They enjoyed abusing us'
At 7am my friends convinced me to head towards Camp Breadbasket in order to steal dried milk cartons in order to sell them on the black market. The hangars were surrounded by a high fence, though there was an opening in the fence. Next to the fence there was a road, then a river.
When we tried to leave the hangars via the opening in the fence British soldiers chased us. We tried to run away but were caught. Some Iraqis managed to escape arrest. I believe some may have drowned as they were trying to escape the British.
British soldiers caught me and started beating me and others using their vehicle's aerials. They were beating us very harshly. We were led inside the hangars while still being beaten all the way. The beating became stronger when we were inside the camp. I was kept in a hangar along with four other Iraqis.
They ordered us to take off our clothes by gesturing to us to do so. When we refused they continued beating us, so we had to follow their orders. They made us sit on each other's laps. I was with one of the detainees, while another two detainees were made to do the same thing, as in the photos. They were enjoying humiliating and abusing us. I wished I was dead at this moment. Then they made me sit with Tariq as in the other photo, where I was forced to put Tariq's penis in my mouth. The other two were made to do the same.
They locked the hangar while we were inside and left us there with no food or drink till the afternoon of the day after, when they opened the hangar and let us go. Since then I fled Basra altogether as I cannot see Tariq again after what had happened, despite the fact that we were close friends.