British Ministry of Defence "extremely sorry" over drowned Iraqi teenager

Ahmad Jabbar Kareem was forced into a canal by four soldiers who were later acquitted of manslaughter

The UK's Ministry of Defence has apologised for the death of an Iraqi boy who drowned after being "forced" into a canal in Basra by four British soldiers.

Ahmad Jabbar Kareem, 15, died in the Shatt Al Basra canal in May 2003 after being stopped by British troops who suspected him of looting near the Basra General Hospital.

He and three other suspected looters were forced into the water by the soldiers for a "soaking" - but the boy got into difficulty and drowned.

The soldiers were tried in a British court for manslaughter and were acquitted in 2006.

The apology comes after a report by former High Court judge Sir George Newman, head of the Iraq Fatality Investigations (IFI) set up in 2013, found the teenager was "aggressively manhandled and assaulted" after his arrest before being taken to the waterway in an armoured vehicle.

It said the soldiers' failure to help was the "plain and certain" cause of the boy's death.

"His death ensued because he was forced by the soldiers to enter the canal, where, in the presence of the soldiers, he was seen to be in difficulty, and to go under the water," he said.

"Notwithstanding the unlawful treatment involved in getting him into the water, his death could have been avoided because he could and should have been rescued after it became clear that he was floundering."

The report said the southern Iraqi city had descended into a "state of chaos" following the toppling of Saddam Hussein in April 2003 and it was left with an ineffectual police force and a court system that could not deal with law breakers.

The report said the soldiers' actions gave rise to "grave concerns" about their ability to cope with their orders and the adequacy of the resources available to them and highlighted serious concerns about the roles imposed on them. 

An MoD spokesman said: "This was a grave incident for which we are extremely sorry." 

"We are committed to investigating allegations of wrongdoing by UK forces and will use Sir George's findings to learn lessons to help ensure nothing like this happens again.