Troops shot Iraqi civilians dead in cold blood, new dossier claims

Eight new instances today and an impending Amnesty report throw doubt on the conduct of UK soldiers in Basra
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Eight new cases of Iraqi civilians allegedly being shot dead in cold blood by British troops are detailed in documents seen by The Independent on Sunday.

Eight new cases of Iraqi civilians allegedly being shot dead in cold blood by British troops are detailed in documents seen by The Independent on Sunday.

The deaths will be added to a dossier of more than a dozen such cases being presented to the High Court in London on Tuesday.

Lawyers acting for the dead men's families will urge the court to ask Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, to hold an independent judicial inquiry into the deaths - a demand backed by senior MPs.

The new cases, which all happened around Basra, are those of:

Hilal Finjan, an elderly school guard who was shot dead on 4 October last year as he tried to prevent rioters getting into the school. He was waving his legally held rifle in the air to warn off demonstrators. Witnesses insist no rioters had fired any weapons.

Ali Kadhim Shamkhi was shot in the stomach on 10 November as he ran to help his father, an education ministry civil servant, whose building was under fire from British troops. The soldiers had heard ministry guards firing warning shots in the air.

Jawad Kadhim Bahidh was on his roof with his wife and six children on 28 August, and was shot after lighting a cigarette. Local children had been throwing fire crackers nearby.

As'ad Kadhim Jassim's taxi was hit by "a barrage of bullets" on 3 November after it passed through a checkpoint which witnesses claim seemed to be unmanned and unlit. He was shot in the back of the head.

Ameen Ajman Ismail was providing security for a demonstration on 14 September and carrying an assault rifle for protection. After he had passed several British patrols without incident, one unit opened fire. Witnesses claim there was no provocation.

Husam Salih Owaid was a cigarette-seller close to an angry demonstration outside a police station on 9 August. He was shot after British soldiers fired on the demonstrators.

Ghanim Gatteh was killed during wedding celebrations on 2 January this year. British troops opened fire about 15 minutes after villagers had fired customary shots in the air.

Ammar Shakir Mahmood was shot as he watched neighbours celebrate the lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq on 28 May 2003. People had fired in the air in celebration.

Uncovered by Public Interest Lawyers, a Birmingham-based human rights law firm run by a solicitor called Phil Shiner, the cases also include several that raise accusations of torture against British troops. They include the battalion involved in the Daily Mirror's allegations, the Queen's Lancashire Regiment.

They come on top of existing allegations about Iraqi deaths in British custody and other civilian killings. On Tuesday, Amnesty International will renew its allegations that British soldiers unnecessarily used "lethal force" against Iraqi civilians.

Amnesty claims that the extent of army misbehaviour has been hard to gauge because of the secrecy with which MoD and army military police investigate wrongful death allegations. When British troops took control of Basra a year ago, there were high hopes that the battle for hearts and minds could be quickly won. Soldiers began foot patrols in berets instead of helmets, and set about rebuilding the city's schools, hospitals and power supplies.

It seemed that the hard-won reputation of the British Army as expert peacekeepers had been justified. But now a different picture is emerging, where British troops torture Iraqi prisoners, and civilians are shot dead in their homes.

Since the Mirror published controversial pictures eight days ago that allegedly showed soldiers from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment urinating on and beating Iraqi detainees, the Army has had one of its worst weeks for years.

Now that controversy is set to deepen. On Tuesday, lawyers acting for more than 20 Iraqi families go to the High Court to accuse British soldiers from at least four regiments of killing detainees and shooting unarmed civilians - including the cases revealed by The Independent on Sunday.

These eight cases were uncovered by Mazin Younis, an Iraqi working for Public Interest Lawyers, which is behind the court action.

Defence ministers have admitted that 33 alleged cases of civilian deaths, injuries or ill-treatment by British troops have been investigated so far, including 18 killings. Among those are six deaths in custody. One of those cases was revealed by Robert Fisk in the IoS on 4 January - that of Baha Mousa, 26, allegedly so badly beaten by Queen's Lancashire troops that he died. In a second case, Ahmed Jabbar Kareem Ali drowned when he was forced to swim across a river after being beaten by British soldiers.

In March, the MoD admitted it has paid more than £15,000 in compensation in 23 cases of wrongly killing civilians. In January, ministers said £72,000 had been paid for all compensation claims.

But no British soldier has been charged, disciplined or dismissed. The MoD confirms that one case is with the Army Prosecuting Authority, but some reports suggest six soldiers face charges.

Faced with similar accusations against US forces, the Pentagon has sacked at least three soldiers and suspended more than 20 others, including a brigadier general and eight other soldiers.

The US cases have been investigated by Congress in televised hearings, and President George Bush and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have apologised.

In the UK, only three MPs have asked questions about British cases and no parliamentary committee has yet begun inquiries.

The MoD and officers involved insist the British cases are isolated. One Queen's Lancashire Regiment insider said: "The feeling in the regiment is anger. We are proud of what we did in Basra last year. We took over a lawless society, and when we left, a considerable degree of normality had returned.

"The officers and the ordinary soldiers want to get to the bottom of it, and if there are bad apples they want them out."

A year of deaths and humiliation

May 2003: Gary Bartlam, 18, of the Royal Fusiliers arrested after pictures of humiliation of prisoners are developed in a shop in Staffordshire.

4 January 2004: Robert Fisk reveals allegations that Baha Mousa was beaten to death in British custody in Basra.

11 January: Four deaths in custody and 13 other deaths of civilians by British troops being investigated.

8 February: Soldiers facing charges over deaths in custody.

29 February: Ann Clwyd, the Prime Minister's human rights envoy, to investigate allegations of deaths in custody.

1 March: The Independent reveals 12 cases of Iraqi civilian deaths which lawyer Phil Shiner intends to take to the High Court in London.

18 March: Amnesty International publishes report alleging torture by UK troops.

1 May: Daily Mirror publishes photographs apparently showing soldiers beating and urinating on Iraqi detainees.

May 4: Government pledges inquiry.

May 5: Mr Shiner launches 20 claims in High Court.

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