Army account of Iraqi deaths questioned

Restricted report found 'discrepancies' in official version of events
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The Independent Online

The British Army's account of the deaths of 20 Iraqis and the alleged mistreatment of nine others after a battle in southern Iraq has been questioned by a secret report.

Ministers maintain that the Iraqis were insurgents killed or captured as a result of a firefight with British forces in 2004. But the families of the dead men allege that they were executed by British soldiers after being transferred to a detention camp. The nine survivors claim they were tortured at the same base.

Now a report, commissioned after the incident and seen by The Independent, shows that there were "discrepancies" in the accounts of the number of detainees captured by British forces after the shooting. This report, classed as restricted, is to be submitted to a public inquiry which will investigate the allegations under terms of reference to be announced to MPs today by Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth.

According to the "analysis" of the witness statements of the soldiers involved in the transfer and detention of the prisoners, four of the men are unaccounted for. The report suggests that the real number of survivors captured after the battle was 13 rather than nine as claimed by the Ministry of Defence. The report quotes one of the soldiers as saying he saw "20 or more prisoners, mainly kneeling" after the operation known as Danny Boy.

The author of the report said that this statement had been "dismissed" because it was inconsistent with the figure of nine. But he added: "Due to the new discrepancies highlighted, its inclusion has been deemed significant."

Phil Shiner, the lawyer representing some of the former detainees, said: "The document was dragged out of a reluctant Secretary of State by the claimants. It shows that once the numbers of live prisoners taken to Camp Abu Naji reached 13 the investigators simply stopped counting as it was obvious that more than nine had been taken in alive. All of this cries out for a public explanation."

Yesterday, The Independent published a photograph of four of the captured Iraqi detainees being held in conditions which lawyers claim breach the Geneva Conventions.

The Iraqis claim that some of the men survived the exchange of fire only to be tortured and killed afterwards at Camp Abu Naji. The Ministry of Defence denies the allegations.

Last night an MoD spokesman said: "The number of detainees brought to Camp Abu Naji was an issue which was explored at length in the Al Sweady judicial review. It will also be central to the Al Sweady inquiry.

"We have nothing to hide. The MoD and Army will co-operate fully with the inquiry and we look forward to that body establishing the truth once and for all."