Six bodies, six grieving families, more accusations against troops

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The Independent Online

Ghanem Kaghan Gatteh al-Roaimi, father of three

Ghanem Kaghan Gatteh al-Roaimi, father of three

The al-Roaimi family lives in Basra beside the Shatt-al Arab waterway which is regularly patrolled by the British military. Ghanem, 17, had just returned home after attending a neighbourhood wedding on 2 January last year when he was allegedly shot dead at the front door.

The marriage ceremony had been accompanied by ceremonial gunfire. According to the dead man's family, a group of British soldiers disembarked from a boat. They opened fire from around 200 yards away. They claim Mr al-Roaimi was shot in the back. He was taken to the Basra teaching hospital where he was pronounced dead with a bullet through the heart. His mother Khaldiya, say family members, "lost her mind" through grief.

Mr al-Roami's father, Kattan Hajim, 75, said: " My son was not doing anything bad. He was not carrying a gun and he was not threatening anyone. I do not know why he was shot. The British soldiers came and took away the door which was hit by bullets. They also took away some bits of wall which had also been hit by bullets. They did not return the door and we had to pay 200,000 dinars to get a new door which is almost two months' wages for me.

"After 40 days the British came and said they wanted to dig up Kaghan's body. It was brought back from Najaf and they said they had examined it and then he was buried again. We have heard nothing more and have received no money."

Mr al-Roami's case is one of those under consideration at present by the Army Prosecuting Authority.

Waleed Fa'ai Muzban

Mr Muzban, 44, was driving a minibus to his brother's home in Basra at around 7pm when he was allegedly shot dead at a checkpoint on 24 August 2003. The family received compensation of two million dinars (around £550) but insist they were told it was an interim payment. They have received no further news.

Mr Muzban's brother Fadr said: "A British soldier shouted at my brother to stop at the checkpoint, but it was very windy day and he just did not hear him. Then they opened fire and he was hit by two bullets in the chest and the side. He died instantly.

"The British Army said that it was an accident and they were sorry. We received some compensation, but around 600,000 dinars of the notes turned out to be fake and those notes were useless. Most of the money has now gone. We were told the British Army is investigating the matter, but we have heard nothing more."

Mr Muzban's widow Sohan and their two children, Ali, four, and Haneem, two, are now staying with Fadr. Mrs Muzban said: "My children have been left without a father and I do not know what we can do in the future. The British say they have made a mistake, but that will not bring him back."

Mr Muzaban's case is also currently being being considered by the Army Prosecuting Authority.

Jawad Kardham Bahir, father of three

Four months after the official end of the war, the electricity and water supplies were still in a desperately poor state and there had been several clashes in the sweltering Basra streets between British troops and local people.

Jawad Kardham Bahir, a 48-year-old CD shop owner, had gone to the third floor roof of his house with members of his family to take advantage of the night breeze during yet another power cut on 28 August 2003.

He lit up a cigar as a British military foot patrol came around the corner. At the same time some children set off some firecrackers on a nearby roof. According to his family, a soldier looking up saw the glow from the cigar, knelt down and opened fire. The bullets went through Mr Bahir's upper arm and through his body into his heart.

"We saw the soldier kneel and fire - it was done very quickly," said Mr Bahir's widow Jamilla. "He did not bleed. The upper part of his body became a strange blue colour and yellow from his stomach down to his feet. He died very quickly. The soldiers just disappeared."

Mrs Bahir and seven members of the family now have to depend on the wages of one of their sons, 19-year-old Billal, who earns 50,000 dinars a month (around £15 ) working for the Civil Defence Force. They will soon have to leave the house they are renting.

"We have not received any compensation for my husband's death. We have not even received a letter from the British," said Mrs Bahir. "We went to the police. They sent us on to the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) and they said they said they will take up the matter with the British. But nothing happened. We went to the British military base as well, but no one there could tell us anything either.

"I can understand the soldier may have mistaken the cigar light for something dangerous, but we feel that we should receive at least an apology and compensation for the mistake."

Mohammed Abdul Raidh Salem, father of three

Mr Salem, a 45-year-old teacher, had been staying at the home of Mahmud Zubon, his brother-in-law, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Mr Zubon is a lawyer and the member of a prominent legal family in Basra. According to Mr Salem's family, at around 11pm on 7 November 2003 he went downstairs after hearing loud noises at the door to discover it was a raid by British soldiers searching for weapons.

Mr Salem was allegedly shot dead on the stairs. The soldiers then carried out a search of the house leaving Mr Salem's body, according to his family, lying slumped on the stairs.

Subsequently the British authorities said a mistake had been made and awarded compensation of three million dinars (approximately £825) for the death of Mr Salem, who left behind three children aged between six and 14.

Mr Salem's widow said: "They did not even allow anyone to move my husband. He was not politically involved, he was not a member of any party. He was just a good, ordinary man. We don't know why they came to my brother's house. They searched everywhere, including the women's rooms, but they found nothing.

"We believe the British soldiers were given false information about my husband by some evil people.

"We have been paid some money, but it is not much. The soldiers broke into our family's home without any authority and shot my husband dead. Why haven't the soldiers who did this been arrested? We want to appeal to the British Queen - why are her soldiers doing this?"

Holding up a photograph of Mr Salem, his son Yusuf, six, said: " British soldiers killed my father."

Hassan Salah Awad Izbali, father of three

Frequent demonstrations took place during August 2003 against cuts in electricity and the water supply. Often the protests turned violent.

On 9 August, Mr Izbali, a market trader in the Tanouma district of Basra, saw trouble start during one such march and decided to shut down his stall and return home with his 16-year-old brother, Alla. According to his family, he was shot dead on the way back.

Alla Izbali said: "Some people in the crowd were throwing stones and Hassan said that we ought to get home before we got caught up in it. He was also worried about the stall getting damaged.

"Then the British soldiers opened fire. We were on the main street, just 200 metres from the police station when Hassan was shot. He was shot twice. I ran back home and told everyone what had happened."

Alla and a cousin, Nawdham Hussein Awad, went back and carried Hassan away from the street. They took him to Basra teaching hospital but he was already dead when they arrived there.

Hassan's mother Wadha said " We have been everywhere trying to find out why my son was shot. We went to Basra Palace (the British headquarters in Basra) but all they said was that they were investigating the matter. An Iraqi human rights group also tried to help. But we have heard nothing more. We have received no money. If we had that we could go to Hassan's grave in Najaf."

Hannan Sayeed Awad, father of three

The shooting of Hannan Awad was another killing carried out during Ramadan. In the early evening of 11 November 2003, Hamid Abdurullah Awad was sitting outside the room where he lived with his family in the grounds of the Directorate of Education and where he was employed by the directorate as a guard. The Awads were relaxing after breaking their day-long fast with the evening meal of Ifthar.

At just after 7.30pm, according to the family, a group of British soldiers came over the wall of the directorate, firing their guns as they came. Hannan, Mr Awad's 30-year-old wife, was hit in the head and Hassan Hamid, a one-year-old boy, on the right hand.

Mrs Awad later died in hospital. Hassan is still receiving treatment for the injury which, it was feared at one stage, could have led to amputation. A further operation is needed to straighten the arm.

"The soldiers said that they came in shooting because people had been firing at them from the directorate," said Mr Awad, 37. "But would I have been sitting outside with my family if there was shooting going on? Was my wife holding a rifle when she was shot?

"The soldiers had come earlier in the day and asked whether there were guns in the directorate. We showed them that the only guns were held by us guards with the permission of the British. They did not find anything else.

"After shooting my wife and son, they locked me in a room. I was only released after they had taken my wife and son to Al-Fayha'a Hospital by ambulance. I went there the next day with my father-in-law to collect my wife's body."

The family has not received any compensation from the British military. Mr Awad said the army did, however, promise to help the boy with his medical treatment - a promise, he says, which was not kept.

"We went and saw the British soldiers. They said they wanted to take my son to Britain for treatment, and a British doctor came around a few times. But then they stopped and then I found out that all these officers have now gone back to England. Perhaps they asked others in the military to come and see us. If that was the case, it did not happen."

Mr Awad is now unemployed. The Directorate of Education had let him and his children stay in two rooms in a house it owns in Basra, but they will have to move out of there this week.

Once a political prisoner under Saddam Hussein's regime, Mr Awad says that he is now deeply disillusioned by what has happened since the war. "I was given a 20-year sentence and I served four years of that before I was released under Saddam's amnesty last year. I was tortured in prison - of course I was glad to see the regime go.

"But what has been the gift of Britain and America to me?A dead wife and a son who was almost killed."

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