Iraq 'abuse victims' interviewed

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Investigators examining claims that British troops committed abuses in Iraq have begun interviewing the alleged victims.

The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) started taking statements last month from the first of more than 150 Iraqis who say they suffered ill-treatment at the hands of UK forces after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Ministers set up IHAT last year to investigate the large number of allegations emerging from Iraq amid calls for a public inquiry into the claims.

Because of the dangers of travelling to Iraq and the problems of getting the Iraqis visas to come to Britain, the interviews are being carried out in another country in the region, which has not been identified.

An IHAT spokesman said: "We can confirm IHAT investigators started interviewing the alleged Iraqi victims in March 2011.

"It would be inappropriate to comment on the locations of the interviews. They took place in a third-party country and we are very grateful for the co-operation of the country concerned.

"There are no interviews currently being conducted but IHAT investigations are ongoing."

IHAT is made up of more than 80 Royal Military Police and former civilian detectives led by retired Staffordshire Police CID head Geoff White.

The inquiry covers about 100 separate cases involving about 160 alleged victims, and its work is expected to take two years at a cost of £6 million.

In December a group of Iraqi civilians lost a High Court bid to force Defence Secretary Liam Fox to hold a wide-ranging public inquiry into scores of allegations of torture and inhumane treatment by British troops between 2003 and 2008.

They have been granted permission to challenge the decision in the Court of Appeal.

But the losing side is expected to attempt a further appeal to the Supreme Court, meaning that IHAT's work could be completed before the legal action is resolved.

It emerged at a High Court hearing in November that three members of British forces have already been referred to the Director of Service Prosecutions for investigation over the alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees.

Birmingham-based human rights legal firm Public Interest Lawyers, which represents the alleged Iraqi victims, argues that IHAT is not independent enough to examine the allegations against UK soldiers because it includes Army investigators.

But the Ministry of Defence insists that IHAT will carry out a thorough and impartial inquiry into the claims.

An MoD spokeswoman said: "It is led by a civilian who reports to the Provost Marshal (Army) and as such is independent of the Secretary of State for Defence and of the military chain of command."

Two public inquiries have already been launched into allegations that British troops abused Iraqis.

The first, into the death of 26-year-old hotel worker Baha Mousa in UK military custody in September 2003, is due to report later this year.

A team of retired detectives is currently carrying out preliminary interviews for the second inquiry, which is looking into claims that 19-year-old Hamid Al Sweady and as many as 19 other Iraqis were murdered, with others suffering horrific abuse, after the "Battle of Danny Boy" in southern Iraq in 2004.