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British troops face new charges as bodies of Iraqi civilians are exhumed

Kim Sengupta in Basra

16 February 2005 - Charges against British troops are believed to be imminent following fresh allegations of crimes committed in Iraq, including cases relating to the deaths of civilians.

Army investigators have exhumed the bodies of civilians who were allegedly shot dead by soldiers in the British-controlled region of southern Iraq for investigators to perform forensic tests. Their reports are in the final legal stages with the Army Prosecuting Authority.

The Independent has uncovered evidence relating to the deaths of six Iraqi civilians whose families claim they were killed by British troops.

Two of the cases are being considered by the Army Prosecuting Authority and are expected to result in charges. It is not known whether British troops will face any charges in relation to the other cases but the Government is believed to be considering claims for compensation from the families.

The two cases before the Army Prosecuting Authority are those of Ghanim Gatteh al- Roaimi, allegedly killed outside his home after a neighbour's wedding in January 2004 (where celebratory shots were fired in the air), and Waleed Fa'ai Muzban, who was allegedly shot dead at an army checkpoint in August 2003.

Mr al-Roami's father, Kattan Hajim, told The Independent: "My son was not doing anything bad. He was not carrying a gun and he was not threatening anyone. I do not know why he was shot."

While the allegations at the centre of the new cases remain unproved, the families of the victims insist the deaths were unprovoked.

The new cases come at a particularly fraught time for the British military. A court martial in Osnabrück, Germany, in which British soldiers are being tried for allegedly abusing Iraqis, is due to reach its conclusion in the next few days.

In an unrelated case, seven paratroopers have been charged with murder after the alleged fatal beating of Nadhem Abdullah al-Saqer, 18, in 2003.

The fresh allegations include disturbing evidence that, in at least some of the cases, the Army had been deliberately fed misinformation to settle personal scores.

One example is the death of a teacher, Mohammed Abdul Ra'idh Salem, who was killed as he came down the stairs of a relative's home to investigate a disturbance. In a statement after an investigation into the killing, a British officer said: "It appears the British forces were deliberately misled on this occasion and it is regrettable that incident led to the death."

The Army has accepted some of the killings were due to "mistakes", while in others they deny responsibility or say investigations are continuing. In some instances, the families accept the deaths were due to understandable mistakes, but in others they say they were unjustified.

Mr Salem's family was paid compensation of about £825. They and other families say the money given - an average of £550 - is inadequate. There are also complaints that after an initial promise of an inquiry by the military, little is heard again.

There are also occasions where evidence - including doors and vehicles - is taken away for examination, hampering possibilities of civil action. The family of Mr al-Roaimi claim troops removed the door and masonry from the wall.

The MoD stresses such evidence-gathering is essential and has been vital in putting prosecutions together. They also say the exhumation of bodies shows thorough investigations are under way.

Army prosecutors have investigated more than 160 allegations of abuse by soldiers and more than 40 allegations are still being dealt with. Fresh civil action is also being considered against the British Government over deaths and alleged abuse by families of victims. A dossier is being compiled by a human rights pressure group, the Iraqi League.


Age: 17

Killed: 2 January 2004 Allegedly shot at his door after wedding when shots were fired in air. Before Army Prosecuting Authority


Age: 44

Killed: 24 August 2003 Allegedly shot dead at a checkpoint in Basra. Family claim he did not hear a warning to stop


Age: 30

Killed: 11 November 2003

Shot at Directorate of Education. Family denies Army claim that shots came from building


Age: 45

Killed: 7 November 2003 Shot at relative's home. Army says it was given malicious information he was an insurgent


Age: 21

Killed: 9 August 2003 Family claims he left his market stall after violence began and was shot dead returning home


Age: 48

Killed: 28 August 2003 Shot on the roof of his home. Family claim soldiers fired after children let off fireworks

:: Article nr. 9733 sent on 17-feb-2005 05:12 ECT


Link: news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=611496

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