British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech at the British Academy in London on September 9, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to protect British troops in Iraq war from any instances of legal abuse, defending an eight-year occupation of the Arab country.
Addressing a meeting with senior British military commanders on Thursday, May said "every effort must be made" to prevent any abuse of the legal system against army forces, adding that she is determined to stop “vexatious” claims being brought against UK soldiers who fought in Iraq.
Backing UK’s policy regarding conflicts in the world and the Middle East, the British premier said, “Our armed forces are the best in the world and with the biggest defense budget in Europe and the second biggest in NATO. We will continue to play our part on the world stage, protecting UK interests across the globe.”
The remarks were made amid mounting criticism of the Iraq Historic Allegation Team (IHAT), which is set up to investigate allegations of murder, abuse and torture by British troops.
Reports said the soldiers, who were involved in the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, claimed they had been hounded through the courts on unfounded claims.
Following the complaints, British soldiers had also called for the IHAT to be shut down.
In this March 27, 2003 file photo, British tank crews wait on the front line at Basra, Iraq. (Photo by AP)
The IHAT is currently examining about 2,000 allegations leveled against troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of the cases before the investigating team involves the death of a 19-year old Iraqi boy in a waterway near the Iraqi southern city of Basra in May 2003.
Judicial investigations indicated that 15-year-old Ahmed Jabbar Kareem Ali had been forced by UK soldiers into the canal and left alone to drown and die.
“The soldiers, having detained him for looting, forced him to enter the canal and left him floundering,” a report said, adding that the boy did not know how to swim and therefore, the British soldiers' failure to help before drowning was the "plain and certain" cause of his death.
A British court tried the soldiers for manslaughter but they were acquitted in 2006.
During the US-led invasion of the Arab country, former UK prime minister Tony Blair’s government sent 120,000 members of the British armed forces and civilians to the country, proving its role as then US President George W. Bush’s chief military ally.
The two allies said they invaded Iraq to eliminate its “weapons of mass destruction” but no such weapons were ever found.
The invasion plunged Iraq into chaos, resulting in years of deadly violence and the rise of terrorist groups like Daesh (ISIL).