MoD faces more than 40 cases of abuse and killings in Iraq

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The Independent Online

British lawyers are now taking court action over more than 40 cases of alleged abuses and killings by British troops in Iraq - including fresh claims that unarmed civilians were murdered, tortured or recklessly shot.

British lawyers are now taking court action over more than 40 cases of alleged abuses and killings by British troops in Iraq - including fresh claims that unarmed civilians were murdered, tortured or recklessly shot.

The new claims have been added to the dossier of ill-treatment and murder allegations at the centre of a High Court case against Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, alleging that British forces in Iraq repeatedly broke human rights laws by ill-treating and killing civilians. The allegations involve the death of an Iraqi lawyer, shot in the chest as he reached into his jacket for his firearms licence, and a brutal assault by a British soldier on an Iraqi motorist.

The controversy over the behaviour of some British units in Iraq hit the headlines last week after a tank driver, Trooper Kevin Williams, appeared at the Old Bailey charged with murdering Hassan Said, an Iraqi, near a command post north of Basra last year.

His prosecution, which was originally blocked by the commanding officer of the Royal Tank Regiment, is the third trial so far involving alleged wrongdoing by British forces. Army prosecutors are preparing another 10 cases - including the beating to death of the hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, and the torture of another seven hotel staff and managers.

Meanwhile, a US soldier who admitted maltreating Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib, Armin J Cruz, was jailed yesterday for eight months, demoted to private and discharged from the army.

The fresh British legal cases are based on eyewitness testimony from close relatives and friends of the victims, and include allegations that:

* A British soldier killed Uday Kareem Khalaf after the Iraqi had accidently hit his leg with his car door. The soldier allegedly shot Mr Khalaf then dragged the wounded man from the vehicle, before hitting his head repeatedly off the pavement. He died in hospital; his body was later exhumed by British military detectives.

* Hassan Sayyed Sabah al-Battat, a local lawyer, was shot by British troops after they came across Mr Battat and his sister arguing with another car driver. They had seen his legally held handgun, but his sister alleges they opened fire when he tried to get his gun licence from an inside pocket. Mr Battat, who has left a widow and nine children, died before reaching hospital. His sister, Hanaa Sayyed Sabah al-Battat, said their older brother, an oil worker, was killed by the British during the war.

* Hussain Alaa Abid Qasim was shot dead as he played football after allegedly being hit by stray bullets when British soldiers exchanged fire with another vehicle on a nearby road. His cousin, Abbod Mohammad Radhi, insists the dead man was an innocent bystander.

The remaining cases include the second man killed late one evening following a tribal funeral party outside Basra, where mourners had been firing into the air.

The dead man, Abid Abdul-Kareem al-Skeini, was carrying an AK-47 assault rifle and was shot by a British patrol along with his cousin, Hazim Jum'aa Gatteh al-Skeini.

In another incident, Lo'ay Aziz Hamid alleges he was crippled after British soldiers began firing wildly because they thought local people in Basra were revolting.

Local men were actually firing into the air to celebrate the lifting of United Nations sanctions. Another man, Muhammad Dhahir Abdullah, alleges he was tortured by British troops after his house was raided last September.

The legal team handling their complaints, headed by Phil Shiner, of the Birmingham-based firm Public Interest Lawyers, is now preparing for the next stage of what will be a long and complex legal battle with the Ministry of Defence over whether or not British forces overseas are bound by the Human Rights Act. The judges involved in their first High Court hearing, held in late July, are expected to hand down their ruling within weeks, in a decision that will have immense implications for the way British forces behave in future peace-keeping operations and occupations.

Both sides will take their cases to appeal if they lose, eventually leading to a final hearing at the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg.

Meanwhile, Mr Shiner's legal team is preparing a raft of civil actions against the MoD for all 41 clients seeking compensation on the grounds that their clients were unlawfully assaulted or illegally killed. These personal injury claims are expected to be submitted in January, unless the MoD voluntarily agrees to pay compensation.

* A soldier from north Wales, Fusilier Stephen Jones of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, was killed in a road accident in Iraq on Friday, the MoD said yesterday. He was the 66th Briton to die in Iraq since the invasion.