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UK: Inquiry into murder of 20 Iraqis by UK troops


A long-awaited public inquiry into allegations that 20 or more Iraqi civilians were murdered by British troops in Iraq nine years ago opened in London on Monday.

The Al-Sweady Inquiry, named after one of the dead men, 19-year-old Hamid Al-Sweady, will examine claims that British soldiers unlawfully killed detainees following a gun battle at a checkpoint in Maysan Province, southern Iraq, in May 2004.

It will also look into allegations that detainees captured at the same time were mistreated at a British base, Camp Abu Naji, and at a detention facility at Shaibah Logistics Base between May and September that year.

Britain's Ministry of Defense vigorously denies the allegations, arguing the inquiry is "premature and disproportionate" as there is no evidence to support the case. It claims that all the dead were killed in battle after ambushing British troops.

The inquiry, first ordered by the British government in 2009, is being chaired by a former High Court judge, Thayne Forbes, and began with an opening statement from counsel to the inquiry Jonathan Acton Davis.

The hearings had to await a lengthy police investigation, which ended with no one being charged.

The inquiry team has already taken statements from Iraqi witnesses in Beirut and Istanbul, as well as from military witnesses, and has trawled through mountains of evidence.

Some 15 Iraqis will travel to Britain to give evidence to the inquiry later this month, including Hamid Al-Sweady's uncle Khuder Al-Sweady and several other detainees.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq by a US-led coalition led to numerous instances of human rights violations by occupying troops, including the use of torture, sexual and psychological abuse in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison.

Some 120,000 British troops served in Iraq during the occupation before their withdrawal in 2009.

In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the United Kingdom had breached the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to investigate the killing of five Iraqis by British troops in 2003.

An inquiry into the 2003 death of Iraqi hotel receptionist Baha Mousa while in British custody condemned “inadequate detention procedures, leadership failures, poor training, a loss of discipline, and a lack of ‘moral courage’ among soldiers to report abuse,” NGO Human Rights Watch reported. The case led to the first conviction of a British soldier under international war crimes legislation.

Britain is also holding a separate wide-ranging public inquiry into the Iraq war, which is due to report later this year.

The British Defense Ministry says it has already settled 227 claims with compensation payouts totalling $23.7 million over human rights violations by British troops in Iraq between 2003 and 2009.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar, AP)

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