Blair envoy to investigate Iraqi killings by UK troops

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The Independent Online

Claims that British troops have killed Iraqi civilians in custody will be investigated by the Prime Minister's special envoy to Iraq, Ann Clwyd, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Ms Clwyd is to visit Army detention camps near Basra within days, as British lawyers gave the IoS a dossier of 12 cases where Iraqi civilians were allegedly killed after being shot, blown up or drowned by British forces.

The cases include unarmed civilians being shot dead in raids on houses; a policemen shot in his car; a teenage boy blown up by an unexploded cluster bomb; and a man run over in a hit-and-run accident involving an Army convoy.

The same legal team, including a QC from Cherie Blair's Matrix chambers, has also taken on the case of a hotel receptionist, Baha Mousa, who allegedly died after four days of beatings at an Army detention centre - a case first revealed by Robert Fisk in the IoS in January.

On Friday, the Ministry of Defence admitted it has paid compensation in 23 cases of wrongly killing civilians - a significant rise in the number it has previously acknowledged - handing out more than £15,000.

Military police have also investigated 18 cases where civilians were allegedly killed by British forces. Of those, eight are still under investigation, including five deaths in custody.

A letter from Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, a Foreign Office minister, to the Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price reveals that Ms Clwyd has warned the Prime Minister that MPs are becoming increasingly alarmed about the growing number of suspicious deaths in British custody. Ms Clwyd said yesterday she will be visiting detention centres during a 10-day visit to Iraq in early March. She is then expected to report back to Mr Blair.

"I will be asking questions as I have every time I have been to Iraq," she said.

Lawyers and Opposition MPs are demanding that Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, holds an independent inquiry into the conduct of British troops.

If he fails to do so, a Birmingham-based law firm will take Mr Hoon to the High Court next month in a bid to force the Government to set up an inquiry.

The firm claims these cases show British soldiers have been guilty of repeated breaches of human rights law, the Geneva Conventions and Army discipline, damaging the Army's reputation.

Phil Shiner, the lawyer handling the legal challenge, said: "It is a shock to discover that British troops have caused the deaths of so many innocent Iraqis ... These new cases raise fundamentally important issues for a government that introduced the Human Rights Act in 1998. We need to establish what has gone wrong."