Al-Sweady Inquiry: UK Army Iraq abuse claims report due

Files at Al-Sweady Inquiry Image copyright Reuters

A long-running public inquiry into alleged abuse carried out by British soldiers in Iraq is to report later.

Claims that up to 20 Iraqis were killed and mutilated after a 2004 battle were withdrawn earlier this year.

But the Al-Sweady Inquiry hearing in central London has been continuing to examine allegations that detainees captured at the time were mistreated.

The Ministry of Defence has accused the Iraqis of lying but has admitted some minor infractions took place.

The inquiry was set up in 2009 by then Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth.

It followed allegations made in judicial review proceedings at the High Court that the human rights of several Iraqis were abused by British troops in the aftermath of a firefight with insurgents near the town of Majar al Kabir.

General Sir Mike Jackson, former head of the Army, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the claims cast a "terrible shadow" over the military but were based on a "tissue of lies".

Sir Mike, who was chief of the general staff at the time of the battle, said: "I'm afraid one must conclude that the allegations never had any real substance - the allegations of killings in that camp."

'Insufficient material'

Chaired by retired High Court judge Sir Thayne Forbes, who oversaw the trial of serial killer Dr Harold Shipman, the inquiry was named after 19-year-old Hamid Al-Sweady. He was one of the Iraqi men said to have been unlawfully killed while in the custody of British troops.

Lawyers acting for several Iraqi families had originally claimed some men taken from the battlefield were mistreated and killed at Camp Abu Naji and Shaibah Logistics Base.

But they withdrew those allegations in March this year after conceding that "insufficient material" had been presented at the inquiry to support those accusations.

The MoD, British troops and their lawyers had vigorously denied the allegations, saying those who died were killed in the fighting.

The inquiry, however, has to decide whether it believes allegations of torture and abuse made by nine detainees, including claims of sexual humiliation and shots being fired during interrogations.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The inquiry was shown images of the Iraqis detained after the battle in 2004

The hearing took evidence about the actions of Soldiers from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, who were ambushed by insurgents, leading to the three-hour gun battle.

It became known as the "Battle of Danny Boy" - named after a nearby British checkpoint.

After the battle, an order was issued to take the bodies of dead Iraqis to the military base Camp Abu Naji. The British army said it wanted to check whether one of the dead was an insurgent thought to have been involved in the killing of six Royal Military Police officers in 2003.

Those who gave evidence or provided witness statements included the nine detainees and relatives of 20 men who died. Some of the witnesses came to London to give evidence while others gave evidence via video link from the Middle East.

To date the inquiry has cost more than £24m.

The first stage of the inquiry involved the search for relevant documentation and other materials and began in 2010. The first hearings began in March 2013, with evidence from hundreds of British and Iraqi witnesses taking place over 168 days.

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