Q&A: Al-Sweady inquiry
A public inquiry is investigating allegations that UK soldiers mistreated and unlawfully killed Iraqis in 2004. Here is a guide to why it was established and what it is investigating.
What is the inquiry about?
It is considering allegations that the human rights of a number of Iraqi nationals were abused by British troops in the aftermath of a firefight which took place on 14 May 2004, during the Iraq war.
On that day, soldiers from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment were ambushed by insurgents, leading to a three-hour gun battle, which also included the use of bayonets. This became known as the "Battle of Danny Boy" - named after a British checkpoint near the town of Majar al-Kabir in southern Iraq.
After the battle, an order was issued to take the bodies of the dead Iraqis to a nearby military base, Camp Abu Naji. The British army says it wanted to check whether one of the dead Iraqis was an insurgent thought to have been involved in the killing of six Royal Military Police officers in 2003.
It says nine Iraqi men were taken captive and they all stayed alive.
Lawyers acting for the men and the families of the dead claim that some of the dead were taken alive and unlawfully killed at Camp Abu Naji. It is also claimed detainees were mistreated after the battle and at Camp Abu Naji as well as later on at Shaibah Logistics Base.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD), British troops and their lawyers vigorously deny the claims. It says those who died were killed on the battlefield.
Both sides agree that, on 15 May, 20 bodies were returned to the Iraqis, but they disagree on almost everything else.
What is the history of the legal proceedings?
At a High Court judicial review in 2009, Khuder Al-Sweady, an Iraqi national, claimed that his 19-year-old nephew, Hamid Al-Sweady, was one of those said to have been unlawfully killed while in the custody of British troops at Camp Abu Naji between 14 and 15 May 2004.
Five of the nine men taken captive by the Army also alleged in the judicial review that they were mistreated by British soldiers while in custody at Camp Abu Naji and when later detained - for about five months - at Shaibah Logistics Base.
Who called the inquiry?
In 2009 the then defence secretary Bob Ainsworth announced an inquiry would take place.
It came after his department was criticised by High Court judges during the action brought by the six Iraqis. They said the department's handling of disclosure of documents had been "lamentable".
During the proceedings Mr Ainsworth conceded there was insufficient information for judges to be able to make a fully-informed decision on the allegations, so a separate investigation was needed.
The inquiry, named after Hamid Al-Sweady, was set up in 2010.
It is being chaired by retired High Court judge Sir Thayne Forbes at Finlaison House in central London.
What is the inquiry's remit?
It is stated as: "To investigate and report on the allegations made by the claimants in the Al-Sweady judicial review proceedings against British soldiers of (1) unlawful killing at Camp Abu Naji on 14 and 15 May 2004, and (2) the ill-treatment of five Iraqi nationals detained at Camp Abu Naji and subsequently at the divisional temporary detention facility at Shaibah Logistics Base between 14 May and 23 September 2004, taking account of the investigations which have already taken place, and to make recommendations."
Why is the inquiry taking so long?
The first stage of the inquiry, which searched for relevant documentation and other materials, began in 2010.
Oral hearings only began in March of this year. An inquiry spokeswoman said it had to approach more than 600 military personnel and about 100 Iraqi witnesses and had searched thousands of files of paper and digital material.
That the facts were "hotly disputed" and that events took place nine years ago in another jurisdiction also helped to explain the length of the inquiry, she added.
What has happened in the oral hearings?
Evidence from Iraqi witnesses was heard from March to July. Those who gave evidence or provided witness statements included the nine detainees and relatives of the 20 dead men, who have all been named in inquiry documents. Some of the witnesses came to London to give evidence while others gave evidence via video link from the Middle East.
The first of up to 200 British military witnesses began to give evidence on Monday 2 September in a phase of the hearing which is expected to last until the New Year. The witnesses will give evidence on the battle, returning bodies to Camp Abu Naji and the treatment of detainees there, and the movement of the detainees to Shaibah Logistics Camp and their treatment and interrogation there.
The inquiry, which has cost more than £19m to date, is due to report back by the end of 2014.
What do the Iraqis want to establish?
They want to know if Iraqis died in British custody, and if so how many. Their lawyer, John Dickinson, has said: "The essential complaint is that a number of Iraqis were taken from the battlefield alive and either in transit to the camp or at the camp were summarily executed."
All nine detainees also made complaints, heard in the first phase of oral hearings, about the way they were treated and interrogated.
Those men are named in Al-Sweady inquiry papers as Hamzah Joudah Faraj Almalje, Mahdi Jasim Abdullah Al-Behadili, Ibrahim Gattan Hasan Al-Ismaeeli, Kadhim Abbas Lafta Al-Behadili, Abbas Abd Ali Abdulridha Al-Hameedawi, Ahmed Jabbar Hammood Al-Furaiji, Hussein Fadhil Abbas Al-Behadili, Atiyah Sayyid Abdulridha Al-Baidhani and Hussein Gubari Ali Al-Lami.
Five of the men were aged 20 or under at the time, two were aged 18 and one was aged 17.
Their main allegations made in the oral hearings included that they were beaten on capture and when transported to Camp Abu Naji, strip-searched during "processing" and questioned "oppressively", with abuse shouted, threats made and guns fired.
They also alleged they were sleep-deprived, hit, threatened, abused, deprived of sleep and subjected to tapes of screaming at Shaibah Logistics Camp.
What do the British say?
The Ministry of Defence insists the allegations are unproven and that it has never found any credible evidence to support them.