Troops accused on Iraq killings
MoD faces lawsuits over deaths of 18 civilians
By Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, Saturday February 21, 2004

The Ministry of Defence is facing the prospect of a string of lawsuits over the deaths of at least 18 Iraqi civilians allegedly killed by British soldiers, the Guardian can reveal. The incidents, hitherto unreported, are separate from the suspicious deaths of seven Iraqis who were being held by British troops in the notorious Camp Bucca detention centre near the port of Umm Qasr, south of Basra.

The threat of legal action comes as the conduct of British troops serving in southern Iraq is under intense scrutiny, with MPs and human rights lawyers demanding independent inquiries into the deaths at the prison camp as well as civilian fatalities in and around Basra.

The new disclosures relate to incidents in which Iraqis have died when they were fired on by mistake or were innocent bystanders to operations allegedly being conducted by British troops.

While the MoD has refused to accept liability for any of the deaths, it has offered and paid compensation to some of the families.

One family was offered about $1,000 (530) for the death of Waleed Fayayi Muzban, who was killed when his vehicle was hit by a barrage of bullets allegedly fired by British troops. Lawyers said the sum was derisory, and are preparing to sue the MoD in civil courts in the UK to provide better compensation.

The new cases include:

The death of Mr Muzban in August last year. He died from chest and stomach wounds in a military hospital.

Three days later, on August 27, Raid Hadi Al Musawi, an Iraqi policeman, was allegedly shot by British soldiers patrolling Basra.

Hanan Shmailawi was shot in the head and legs while sitting down to her evening meal in November. British soldiers were on the roof of Basra's Institute of Education complex, where the family lived and worked, investigating a crime.

Muhammad Abdul Ridha Salim went to visit his brother-in-law at around midnight on November 5. British troops raided the house and one allegedly shot him in the stomach. He died later in hospital.

Jaafer Hashim Majeed, 13, was playing in a Basra street in the morning of May 13 when a cluster bomb exploded. He died on the way to hospital.

In another incident a senior British army officer has acknowledged responsibility for killing and wounding members of a family who were legitimately carrying arms.

Phil Shiner, whose firm Public Interest Lawyers is acting in these and other cases, said yesterday: "The 18 Iraqis are the tip of the iceberg. All have lost relatives and loved ones in circumstances where it is crystal clear the UK armed forces are to blame, often because they've shot people by mistake.

"The government must act immediately to set up an independent inquiry to establish the precise cause of these deaths."

Adam Price, a Plaid Cymru MP who has asked parliamentary questions about the deaths, said that under European human rights case law an occupying power is obliged to set up impartial and independent investigations into the treatment of civilians.

The MoD said that any money given to Iraqi families was in the form of "ex gratia payments", and did not mean the MoD accepted liability.