An Amnesty International report has alleged British forces in Iraq have shot and killed civilians, including an eight-year-old girl, in situations in which they were under no apparent threat.
It said “many” cases of killings of civilians by UK troops have not been investigated, with claims that probes by the Royal Military Police have been “secretive” as families are given little or no information about their progress.
Amnesty called for a civilian-led investigation into all killings by British forces, with findings made public.
The report was compiled following visits to UK-administered southern Iraq in February and March by delegates from the human rights organisation, who interviewed families, eye-witnesses, Iraqi police officers and officials of the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Amnesty said it was unable to estimate the total number of deaths which could be attributed to British personnel.
The report was released the day after a separate dossier into abuse allegations by the Red Cross highlighted the case of a hotel receptionist who died after a beating from British troops.
Married father-of-two Baha Mousa, 28, was among nine men seized at a hotel in Basra last September.
“Following their arrest, the nine men were made to kneel, face and hands against the ground, as if in a prayer position,” the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report said.
“The soldiers stamped on the back of the neck of those raising their head.”
Before he died, fellow captives heard Mr Mousa, whose name is blanked out in the document, “screaming and asking for assistance”.
The death certificate said he had died of “asphyxia” but the cause was listed as “Unknown”, adding: “Refer to the coroner”.
Mr Mousa’s family are now among the relatives of 14 dead Iraqis who have launched a High Court bid for compensation from the British government.
The Amnesty International report also singled out the case of eight-year-old Hanan Saleh Matrud, who was reportedly shot by a soldier of B Company of the 1st Battalion of the King’s Regiment in August last year.
An eye-witness told Amnesty’s researchers that, rather than being hit accidentally by a warning shot as the Army has said, Hanan was killed when a soldier aimed at her and fired a shot from around 60 metres.
The report also highlights the death of Ghanem Kadhem Kati, 22, who was shot outside his front door while celebrating a family wedding.
An RMP investigation is under way, amid reports that British soldiers responding to the sound of bullets being fired into the air fired five shots at him from 50 metres away, despite a neighbour allegedly telling the shooting was part of the wedding celebrations.
Amnesty’s UK director, Kate Allen, said: “We are told in the UK that southern Iraq is comparatively safe and secure. Yet Iraqis on the ground have painted a very different picture.
“People live in fear of armed groups who can strike with seeming impunity.
“Killings by UK forces, in situations where they should not be using lethal force, are examined in secrecy and behind closed doors.
“Instead of the army deciding whether to investigate itself when civilians are killed, there must be a full, impartial and civilian-led investigation into all allegations of killings by UK troops.”
The Ministry of Defence declined to comment on Amnesty’s report until it had considered the details of its allegations.
An MoD spokesman said: “Obviously, we take our obligations under the Geneva Conventions and international law very seriously.
“There are a number of investigations into allegations of mistreatment under way, but until we see the report we cannot really comment in detail.”