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UK PM: 'Vexatious' Iraq abuse claims must stop

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said that every effort must be made to stop "vexatious" claims being brought against the British armed forces, as two separate inquiries relating to the British military in Iraq and Afghanistan examine about 2,000 allegations of serious abuses by British soldiers.

May raised the issue of what she believed to be spurious legal claims during a meeting with top UK defence chiefs, where she praised the role that the British armed forces played in maintaining Britain's security and stature.

"Whether taking the fight to Daesh in Iraq and Syria, helping to tackle the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean or providing flood relief at home – we owe them a huge debt of gratitude," May said of the military.

A source at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), meanwhile, told the BBC that steps were now being taken to prevent spurious complaints and reduce the number of cases faced by military personnel over alleged abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A former soldier who spoke to the BBC on condition of anonymity said: "The reality of 21st century warfare is now that anyone in the world, even our enemies, can make any allegation against British forces, no matter how absurd, and the British government and army will stand and watch in utter indifference as it destroys their lives and careers."

However, Sir George Newman, a retired High Court judge responsible for another initiative investigating UK abuses in Iraq, the Iraq Fatality Investigations (IFI), did not share May's sentiments. Earlier this month, the IFI found that British forces were responsible for the death of an Iraqi teenager who was forced at gunpoint into a canal leading to his death by drowning.

Soldiers sue the MoD

May's condemnation of the so-called abuse of the British legal system by those using the findings of government inquiries, such as the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), comes after reports that British soldiers were now suing the MoD as they feel they had not been supported by their employer.

An ex-soldier, who faces prosecution for the murder of an Iraqi civilian, accused the MoD of failing to show "simple, common decency" in a letter to the Commons Defence Select Committee earlier this week.

"Supporting personnel and veterans that are accused [of war crimes and abuses] doesn't pervert justice, nor does it infringe upon the independence of the investigation," the former soldier added.

Despite being a government initiative led by a former senior police detective, Mark Warwick, IHAT itself has come under fire. Johnny Mercer, Tory MP and member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, branded the legal pursuit of troops "a national disgrace" and called for IHAT to be axed, although the committee's investigation into the government initiative has yet to be concluded.

IHAT was formed with public funding in 2010 in order to review and investigate allegations of the abuse, murder and torture of Iraqi civilians by British military personnel between 2003 and 2009.

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