Kim Sengupta: Plump and serious man I met just before his death

He had complaints but was certainly one of the quieter ones in the party
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The Independent Online

In the late summer of 2003 Basra was a very different place from the stronghold of violent Shia militias it became in subsequent years.

The fragile peace in Baghdad following the invasion had already begun to shatter and US forces were facing waves of bombings, but the British-run south was still deemed to be comparatively safe.

I met Baha Mousa about a month before his death at his place of work, the Ibn al-Haitham hotel at the Basra city centre, where I had gone with an Iraqi journalist, Nour al-Khal, to meet a group of civic leaders who had complaints which were familiar, but very real nonetheless, in a society fractured by war – lack of electricity and water in temperatures rising above 50C; no sign of the promised reconstruction and alleged abuse and mistreatment by British troops at checkpoints and increasingly frequent house searches.

Baha Mousa, a plump and serious young man, hovered in the background as we sat on the gaudy red velvet sofas of the hotel drinking tea. He too had complaints to make but was certainly one of the quieter ones in the party. Nothing of what he had to say was overtly political although I do recall being told that his father was a police colonel and thus would have had links with the previous regime.

We did not see Baha Mousa again. But around eight months later I met his father Col Daoud Mousa. He alternated between anger and grief, thrusting a photograph of his son at me and al-Khal, who was later shot after being taken away along with an American journalist, Stephen Vincent, by men in the uniform of the Iraqi police.

We also met three of the men taken away by British troops in the raid on the Ibn al-Haitham hotel. Unlike Baha Mousa they had survived the captivity although they had horrific accounts of what had happened to them. They later came to the UK to give evidence in court.

At the time, Baha Mousa's death was just one of several killings of Iraqis for which UK troops were under investigation. It became a cause celebre and his family later received almost £3m in compensation from the British Government. But no one has been convicted of killing him, as remains the case with the other deaths as well.