The British Government has paid off more than 1000 innocent Iraqis hit by botched British military operations that resulted in deaths, injuries and major damage to property.

An investigation by the Independent shows that the payments, many of them as small as a few hundred pounds, leave the Ministry of Defence with compensation bills of £8.3 million ($17.6 million) for the Iraq conflict. British troops pulled out of Iraq in 2009, after six years.

The ministry has so far had to pay £4.2 million as a result of 1145 claims made by Iraqis who had been injured, had relatives killed or had their property damaged by British military operations. A further £4.1 million has been handed to 21 Iraqi victims subjected to unlawful treatment or torture by British troops and the family of a child who was accidentally shot.

Human rights groups last night called for a broad public inquiry into the actions of British troops in Iraq. Attention has focused on cases in which Iraqis were abused by British soldiers, such as that of Baha Mousa, who died in British custody in September 2003.

However, the bulk of the compensation was paid out in small amounts to Iraqi families after being agreed locally, before they ever consider taking their case through the British courts.

The average figure paid out was £3650, way below the £2.8 million handed in 2008 to the family of Mousa and others mistreated by British troops in Basra, after their cases were taken to the High Court.

The principle of paying compensation to a victim or their family is an established part of Iraqi tradition.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, said that the £8.3 million bill was an "eloquent postscript" to former Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision to take Britain to war.

The payments were agreed by the Area Claims Office in Basra, which dealt with over 3260 claims before shutting its doors in October 2009. A MoD spokesman said yesterday: "When compensation claims are received they are considered on the basis of whether or not the Ministry of Defence has a legal liability to pay compensation. Where there is a proven legal liability, compensation is paid."

The Independent has also seen official figures revealing compensation paid out to Afghans. Since 2007, 1142 claims have been paid, totalling £825,000. Payments for damaged property made up £658,000 of the bill, with £62,000 paid out for injuries sustained and £105,000 paid as a result of fatalities.

"People's lives have been devastated and in cases where the UK is responsible, those affected by abuses are fully entitled to adequate compensation. Just as important, though, is that that all those responsible for abuses are brought to justice," said Kate Allen, of Amnesty International.

Tom Porteous, of Human Rights Watch, added: "The high level of compensation payouts underlines the need for a full inquiry into UK abuses in Iraq."

- INDEPENDENT