x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

UK treatment of Iraqis in the spotlight

A public inquiry and court case will be a major test for the British government over the way it conducted itself in Iraq after the invasion.

Hassan and Ali Mousa hold up a picture of their family, including their father Baha, during happier times.
Hassan and Ali Mousa hold up a picture of their family, including their father Baha, during happier times.

LONDON // The treatment of civilians by the UK during the occupation of Iraq became the focus of a two-pronged attack in Britain yesterday. One involved the launch this week of a year-long inquiry to determine how the death of 26-year-old Baha Mousa, a Basra hotel worker, reflected the ill treatment meted out by British troops on Iraqi detainees. Yesterday, it was revealed that 25 Iraqis who worked for the British, mainly as interpreters, are to sue the government for failing to protect them from extremist militias.

In the court action to be lodged in London this week, the Iraqis will claim that the British government failed in its duty of care to protect them from beatings, kidnappings and even murder. Taken together, the public inquiry and the court case will provide a major test to the government over the way it conducted itself in Iraq after the invasion. The government-ordered inquiry, chaired by Sir William Gage, one of the country's most senior judges, has already seen a video of a British soldier screaming abuse at hooded prisoners in Iraq. One of those prisoners was Mousa, a father of two who was suspected of being an insurgent but was innocent.

He was arrested along with eight others at the Haitham Hotel, where they worked, in September 2003. Within 48 hours, Mousa had died of asphyxiation and was found to have almost 100 wounds on his badly beaten body. In his opening speech to the inquiry, the lead barrister, Gerard Elias, QC, said: "There can be little doubt that the detainees, or some of them, were the targets of physical assaults. "They were beaten more or less continuously over the 48-hour period, kicked and punched a very large number of times, especially in the kidneys and lower back.

"There was shouting, moaning, even screaming, coming from the TDF [temporary detention facility] from time to time during the detention, according to some witnesses. "And the inquiry will hear scandalous accounts of an orchestrated choir of victims' reactions." The inquiry will be divided into four parts that will look at the use of "conditioning techniques", such as hooding prisoners, which Britain supposedly outlawed in the 1970s; the events leading to Mousa's death; the culpability of officers and others in the chain of command, and recommendations for the future.

News that the government was also to be sued by Iraqis formerly employed by British forces was revealed yesterday by their lawyer in London, Sapna Malik. She said 22 of the people involved in working for the UK plus the widows or mothers of three men who were murdered will sue the government for failing in their duty of care. Although about 200 Iraqis employed by the British have been resettled in the UK, those involved in the impending legal action were turned down mainly because they did not qualify as they had not been employed for more than a year.

Ms Malik, a partner at Leigh Day solicitors, said yesterday: "The ministry of defence could certainly have taken better steps to protect the identities of interpreters and, in certain cases, they should have housed the interpreters on the bases. "Financial compensation will go a significant way to reduce the hardship they've been suffering. They are also hoping that this will help shape the policy if Britain gets involved in any future conflicts."

One of the men involved in the case, a 28-year-old interpreter still living in Iraq, told the BBC he decided he had to give up working for the British in 2005 after his best friend was killed. "He was tortured - severe, merciless torture - and was killed and thrown into a remote place," he said. "It was like a daily nightmare for my family. Whenever I was going out, they were thinking of me. They were fearing and expecting the worst for me.

"I feel so disappointed. After my loyal and faithful service to the British army, I am alone without any help. It is devastating to me." A spokesman for the foreign office said: "We have made a decision to focus assistance on those staff who have had a sustained association with us in the most difficult circumstances. Wherever we draw the line, there will be difficult cases." This year, David Miliband, the foreign secretary, announced that a scheme to help 600 Iraqi interpreters and other staff resettle in the UK by next March was on schedule.

"The scheme for assistance is designed to reflect our enduring debt to them. I am pleased it has proved popular and effective," he said. However, government figures show that at least 700 Iraqis formerly employed by the British had their applications to resettle in Britain turned down. dsapsted@thenational.ae