By Simon Basketter
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Al-Sweady inquiry clears soldiers – but more torture cases expected

This article is over 8 years, 10 months old
Issue 2435
British army in Basra

British army in Basra (Pic: The US Army)

Allegations that British soldiers murdered Iraqis and mutilated their bodies after a battle in Iraq were rejected by an inquiry at the end of last year. But it found that soldiers abused prisoners and that troops breached the Geneva convention.

The al-Sweady inquiry—named after an Iraqi teenager killed by British soldiers—concluded that troops were guilty of mistreating detainees.

Sir Thayne Forbes, a former high court judge, found the most serious allegations made against the soldiers were “wholly and entirely without merit or justification”.

The inquiry looked at the aftermath of the battle of Danny Boy, named after a British checkpoint near Majar al-Kabir, north of Basra, on 14 May 2004. 

Twenty bodies as well as nine captured Iraqis were brought to a British base called Camp Abu Naji. The report said this left the soldiers “very exposed to allegations that Iraqi men had been murdered, tortured and mutilated” at the camp. It also outlined examples of ill-treatment by soldiers during “tactical questioning”. 

This included the practice of blindfolding. This was meant to be banned after criticism of its use in Northern Ireland in 1972.


It was prohibited again after the killing of Basra hotel worker Baha Mousa in British custody in 2003.

He suffered 93 injuries, including fractured ribs and a broken nose.

According to Phil Shiner, lawyer for many Iraqi victims, “By the end of January there will be more than 1,100 cases of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, deaths in custody and other unlawful killings. 

“There are at least a further 30 Baha Mousa-type cases we know about.”

The government was forced to set up the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT). They say they are investigating 1,000 cases of killings and ill-treatment. They include Hanaan Salih Matrood, an eight-year-old, who was playing near her home when she was  shot by a member of the 1st Battalion of the King’s Regiment. 

Or 15-year-old Ahmed Jabbar Kareem, who was arrested by a British Army unit, beaten and thrown into the Shatt al-Arab river. This was a practice soldiers called “wetting”. Unable to swim, he drowned. 

IHAT have interviewed 83 people since July 2013. Justice for the Iraqi victims of the British occupation is a long way off.


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