Iraq
British Army soldiers of 1 Black Watch march to attend Sunday services in Basra before their deployment to areas south of Baghdad Reuters

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is to open an investigation at the Hague into allegations that UK armed forces abused Iraqi detainees during the Iraq War.

The top international court of law is to conduct an inquiry into approximately 60 alleged cases of unlawful killings and numerous claims of mistreatment of Iraqis held in British military custody between 2003 and 2008.

The case represents the first time ever the UK will come under the scrutiny of an ICC probe. British military and political leaders could end up in the dock accused of war crimes.

The investigation is to be reopened - after being closed in 2006 - by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda after a consortium of human rights and public interest lawyers submitted new evidence and information in January.

In a statement, the ICC said: "The new information received by the office alleges the responsibility of officials of the United Kingdom for war crimes involving systematic detainee abuse in Iraq from 2003 until 2008.

"The re-opened preliminary examination will analyse, in particular, alleged crimes attributed to the armed forces of the United Kingdom deployed in Iraq between 2003 and 2008."

Attorney General Dominic Grieve said in a statement that the government would fight the allegations but would cooperate with the court in order to show that "British justice is following its proper course".

"The government completely rejects the allegation that there was systematic abuse carried out by the British armed forces in Iraq.

"British troops are some of the best in the world and we expect them to operate to the highest standards, in line with both domestic and international law.

"In my experience the vast majority of our armed forces meet those expectations. Where allegations have been made that individuals may have broken those laws, they are being comprehensively investigated."

Grieve added that the work of the inquiry teams was "independent, robust and meticulous".

British Foreign Secretary William Hague previously stated that the bid to prosecute British politicians and military leaders over the allegations of war crimes should be rejected.

"These allegations are either under investigation or have been dealt with in a variety of ways," he said.

Defence officials are said to be confident the ICC will not push for a full formal investigation because the UK is conducting an investigation of its own into claims of human rights abuse of Iraqi civilians.

The announcement is a blow to the prestige of the armed forces, as the UK is the only western state that has faced a preliminary investigation at the ICC. The court's decision places the UK in the company of countries such as the Central African Republic, Colombia and Afghanistan.

the announcement is a blow to the prestige of the armed forces, as the UK is the only western state that has faced a preliminary investigation at the ICC. The court's decision places the UK in the companyof countries such as the Central African Republic, Colombia and Afghanistan.