Pressure builds for inquiries into Iraq abuses

The government is under pressure to sanction public inquiries into the alleged unlawful killings, torture and abuse of hundreds of Iraqis by British armed forces amid a series of landmark legal challenges that could force its hand.

The Ministry of Defence is facing legal action by the families of 32 dead Iraqi civilians, who they say were killed unlawfully by British troops, unless it agrees to hold an independent inquiry into the deaths so that lessons can be learnt. Among the dead are Hanaan Salih Matrood, an eight-year-old girl, who died after being shot by a British patrol in August 2003. The MoD denies the deaths were unlawful.

Lawyers acting for the 32 families say that a public inquiry is unavoidable following a landmark judgment by Europe's highest court earlier this year. Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) is calling on the MoD to concede rather than force the case to go to the Supreme Court. In July, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the British Government was responsible for securing the human rights of all individuals under its power and control in Iraq. Any credible allegations of ill-treatment or unlawful killing by British forces must therefore be investigated publicly and independently. This contradicts an earlier ruling by the law lords who found that the death of the hotel worker Baha Mousa was an "exceptional case", because he died on a British base in Basra.

But damning findings from the two-year Baha Mousa public inquiry, published on Thursday, have added further pressure on the Government after a large number of soldiers, officers, regiments and the MoD were implicated in the routine use of illegal interrogation techniques in Iraq. The inquiry found "serious and gratuitous" violence inflicted by 1st Battalion, The Queen's Lancashire Regiment against Mousa and nine other innocent civilians was not an isolated incident.

Phil Shiner of PIL said: "The MoD has acted disgracefully for years in its attempts to secure impunity for the human rights violations of Iraqi civilians by its personnel. It has deployed every dirty trick in the book to keep these dreadful cases and torturous practices hidden from public view. If common sense prevailed, coupled with a proper concern not to waste any more taxpayers' money, it would now set up the two further inquiries that are needed."

The Court of Appeal will rule next month whether a public inquiry must be held into the case involving 142 Iraqis which is led by Ali Zaki Mousa, who was allegedly beaten and tortured by British forces. The MoD insists investigations by the Royal Military Police in the Iraq Historic Allegations Team will suffice.

Case Study

Army shot girl, eight, so why no investigation?

*Hanaan Salih Matrood, eight, was shot and killed by a soldier from B Company of 1st Battalion, The King's Regiment on 21 August 2003. The Battalion claims Hanaan was hit by a warning shot fired to break up a hostile group of stone-throwers during a patrol in Basra.

Iraqi witnesses and Hanaan's family say she was among a group of children who gathered about 60 metres from the armoured vehicle near her home. They deny anyone was throwing stones, and claim a soldier suddenly fired a shot which hit Hanaan in the stomach.

The child's uncle carried her to the vehicle and claims the soldiers did not want to take her to hospital, but later did, where she died. The family were then given inaccurate information about their rights with regards to submitting a claim for compensation.

No investigation was carried out by the UK military authorities, according to information provided by the minister for Armed Forces in January 2004.

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