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Iraq veterans 'may face war-crimes prosecutions'

Published 02/01/2016

Baha Mousa was beaten to death by British soldiers in Basra in 2003 (Liberty/PA)
Baha Mousa was beaten to death by British soldiers in Basra in 2003 (Liberty/PA)

Iraq War veterans may face prosecution for crimes including murder following a probe into allegations of torture and unlawful killing, the head of the unit investigating the claims has said.

Mark Warwick said there were "lots of significant cases" and discussions would be held further down the line over whether they met the war-crimes threshold.

UK forces withdrew from Iraq in 2009 although lawyers are continuing to refer cases to the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat), the Government-established criminal investigation into murder, abuse and torture claims linked to the six-year military mission.

Mr Warwick, the former police detective in charge of Ihat, told the Independent newspaper: "There are serious allegations that we are investigating across the whole range of Ihat investigations, which incorporates homicide, where I feel there is significant evidence to be obtained to put a strong case before the Service Prosecuting Authority to prosecute and charge."

He added: "Over the next 12 to 18 months, we will review all the caseload to better understand the picture and then I think we can say whether 2019 seems realistic."

The multimillion- pound inquiry's workload reached 1,515 possible victims by September, of whom 280 are alleged to have been unlawfully killed.

Mr Warwick said the case of Baha Mousa, an Iraqi hotel receptionist who died after being interrogated and abused by British soldiers more than a decade ago, remains "a live criminal investigation".

He added: "There are lots of significant cases that we are investigating and at the appropriate time it will be a matter for us to discuss with the SPA (Service Prosecuting Authority) whether they meet the war-crimes threshold, but there are certainly serious allegations currently being investigated."

Mr Warwick said not all allegations will lead to an investigation.

"What's the likely outcome to be if we do a full investigation, and what's the likely penalty if we convict someone?" he said.

"We would look at the credibility of the allegation in the first instance; and, when we've looked at a lot of these extra cases coming to us, some of them are duplicates of cases, some of them we've already identified as part of our own investigation process, and some are multiple allegations, where we would investigate as a single allegation."

Campaigners have pushed for the pace of probe to be speeded up. Ihat's budget is set at £57.2 million, which runs until the end of 2019 - 16 years after the 2003 invasion began.

Carla Ferstman, director of the human rights charity Redress, told the newspaper: "The incredibly slow pace at which Ihat is investigating allegations of criminality committed by UK soldiers against Iraqi civilians is wholly unacceptable.

"Things seem to still be moving at a snail's pace. We call upon the Government to ensure Ihat can, and does, do what it was set up to do, and to do it now. This cannot be a whitewash."

An MoD spokesman said: "The vast majority of UK service personnel deployed on military operations conduct themselves professionally and in accordance with the law.

"The MoD takes all allegations of abuse or unlawful killing extremely seriously.

"Where there is sufficient evidence, members of HM Forces can be prosecuted. It is estimated that the Ihat's work will take until the end of 2019."

Public Interest Lawyers, which represents a number of alleged victims, claimed Ihat was "failing to investigate" those responsible for "systemic" abuse.

A spokesman said: "PIL has 1,386 cases where the victims all make allegations of torture and ill-treatment or of unlawful killings.

"Despite public inquires, court proceedings ongoing since 2004 and the Ihat team of investigators, there is yet to be a single prosecution resulting from Ihat's work.

"This is in circumstances where there is 'significant evidence', according to Mark Warwick, the head of Ihat, that war crimes may have been committed. Ihat are simply failing to investigate any military personnel, civil servants or politicians responsible for the systemic abuse."

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