More UK soldiers face charges for killing or abusing civilians

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The Independent Online

British soldiers are facing prosecution in 12 cases where Iraqi civilians are alleged to have been illegally killed or assaulted - a significant jump in the previously disclosed figure.

British soldiers are facing prosecution in 12 cases where Iraqi civilians are alleged to have been illegally killed or assaulted - a significant jump in the previously disclosed figure.

Defence ministers have revealed that the Army Prosecuting Authority is studying dossiers in nine cases where troops allegedly shot or mistreated Iraqis. The APA - the military equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service - has already sent two cases for courts martial and a third is being investigated by the Metropolitan police.

The new batch of cases involves at least four deaths - including that of the Basra hotel receptionist Baha Mousa while he was being held in custody by the Queen's Lancashire Regiment. Details of the case were first revealed by The Independent on Sunday.

The other deaths are alleged to have been at the hands of Army patrols in the Basra area, including the shooting of a civilian called Zaher Sabti Zaher during a "friendly fire" incident in March last year. Mr Zaher was fatally wounded after being challenged by British soldiers during disturbances at al-Zubayr, south-east of Basra. In the confusion, a tank crew opened fire, killing Mr Zaher and a British soldier, Sgt Stephen Roberts, 33.

Sgt Roberts's death sparked a furious controversy over equipment shortages for British troops, because he had been ordered to hand over his body armour three days earlier. It is thought four members of the Royal Tank Regiment face prosecution over both deaths.

The new cases led to fresh demands from the Liberal Democrats for an independent inquiry into alleged misbehaviour by British soldiers, after the armed forces minister, Adam Ingram, said the number of cases being investigated had jumped to 79. They include 37 civilian deaths, seven of them in custody.

The Liberal Democrats' defence spokesman, Paul Keetch, said: "These nine cases before the Army Prosecuting Authority raise wider questions about the command and control of UK forces. The only way to restore confidence is for a full inquiry into all the actions of our personnel in Iraq."

Mr Ingram has also revealed - under questioning from the Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price - that as part of their investigations the military police had exhumed the bodies of three Iraqis allegedly killed by British troops. In two other cases, the families of the dead refused to allow the graves to be opened.

Mr Price said he was furious about the disclosure because Mr Ingram had accused him in a House of Commons debate of making "nonsensical suggestions" that exhumations would be necessary. The MP said the minister had ridiculed him without knowing that his own troops had begun exhumations.

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