Iraqi brothers say they were beaten and abused by British soldiers

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The Independent Online

British troops in Iraq are facing new allegations of abusing prisoners in the weeks after the 2003 invasion.

Two brothers have claimed they were beaten with sticks and deprived of water and sleep. One of the men also alleges a British soldier urinated on his head.

In tonight's BBC Newsnight programme, the brothers Marhab and As'ad Zaaj-al-Saghir allege they were abused by British soldiers who raided their home in Basra two years ago. They say troops stole their family car and cash, before taking them to a British base where they were denied water and sleep. They say they were later they were beaten and abused.

In the programme, Marhab says: "They lowered me down ... while I was tied up, threw me on the floor and hit me with a stick. You couldn't draw breath afterwards and I lost consciousness. I thought they would throw water over us but he got his penis out and urinated on my head." He added: "If I'd had a weapon I'd have killed myself."

The brothers have yet to make an official complaint, and the only corroboration of their allegations are forms issued by the US Army, which show they were eventually released without charge from the Umm Qasr camp. But their account is similar to other allegations contained in a confidential Red Cross report. The report said inmates at the camp were "routinely treated by their guards with general contempt, with petty violence". One man said he was held without charge for more than two months, during which he was punched by troops, and forced to make animal noises.

The Ministry of Defence told the programme it had investigated 177 complaints against British troops. Most involved shootings in which troops said they were returning fire.

Meanwhile, the enforced return of failed asylum-seekers to Iraq is due to begin within weeks despite the continuing security crisis. Refugee groups said more than 40 Iraqis have been picked up and sent to detention centres to await their repatriation to the Kurdish-run north of Iraq.

The Home Office said last night that no one would be returned to areas considered dangerous, but the planned removals fly in the face of United Nations advice.

For several years Iraqi Kurds have been among the largest ethnic groups claiming refuge in Britain, and a handful have voluntarily returned home since the 2003 invasion. Although David Blunkett, the former home secretary, said nearly two years ago that he wanted to start enforced returns shortly, no one has so far been sent back against their will. Over the past week, however, Iraqi Kurds have been rounded up in raids around the country.

A Home Office spokes-woman declined to say how many were being held but confirmed that deportations would begin within weeks. "We will implement enforced returns to areas assessed as suitable and where individuals are assessed as not being at risk."

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