Lawyers call for inquiry into Iraq abuse claims

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The Independent Online

An attempt to secure a wide-ranging public inquiry into how UK forces treated detainees during the Iraq war will be launched today.

Lawyers for 66 Iraqis who claim they were abused by British troops are lodging a claim for a judicial review on behalf of all the alleged victims.

Birmingham-based legal firm Public Interest Lawyers argues that the cases are so numerous and so similar that Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth must hold a single inquiry into the UK's detention policy in south-eastern Iraq.

The allegations include claims that British troops subjected Iraqi prisoners to rape, sexual humiliation and torture.

Public Interest Lawyers said the Ministry of Defence, Royal Military Police and the courts could not hope to deal with all the cases individually within a reasonable timescale.

Solicitor Phil Shiner, from the firm, said: "There are so many cases and so many have so much in common - similar allegations at similar facilities, often involving the same people.

"We can't have these dragged out over 10 or 15 years. This is the only rational option."

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, began hearing evidence last July.

It is looking at how prisoner-handling techniques banned by the Government in 1972 - including hooding, food and water deprivation and painful "stress positions" - came to be used in Iraq.

In November, the Ministry of Defence announced details of a second inquiry into allegations that 19-year-old Hamid Al Sweady and up to 19 other Iraqis were unlawfully killed and others ill-treated at a British base in May 2004.

The UK's involvement in the Iraq war is also being examined at the ongoing Chilcot Inquiry, although this has a much broader remit.

Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell said a public inquiry into UK forces' treatment of detainees was not justified.

He said: "Over 120,000 British troops have served in Iraq and the vast, vast majority have conducted themselves with the highest standards of professionalism.

"All allegations of abuse will be investigated thoroughly and where proven, those responsible punished and the complainants compensated.

"Allegations must not be taken as fact and formal investigations must be allowed to take their course without judgments being made prematurely.

"The MoD has received Public Interest Lawyers' further arguments that there should be a public inquiry looking at Iraq abuse allegations.

"Our view remains that a public inquiry is not justified, but the MoD is considering this again and will respond in due course."