More soldiers face war crime charges

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DOZENS more British soldiers are facing the threat of prosecution for war crimes over events which occurred in Iraq during and after the invasion of the country in 2003.

After Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, announced that 11 British soldiers were to be prosecuted for the alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees, the army yesterday revealed that 176 incidents had been investigated.

But the nature of some of the allegations has caused anger inside the army. Of the 176 investigations, 100 were carried out into incidents in which British troops returned fire after being shot at by insurgents.

And Colonel Tim Collins, formerly of the Royal Irish Regiment, who was cleared of allegations of misconduct, cautioned that there needed to be a distinction between "crimes committed in war" covered by the Geneva convention and "war crimes" such as genocide and mass murder.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that five cases had been identified which fell into the category of deliberate abuse.

The latest case involves the Queen's Lancashire Regiment and centres on events in the southern Iraqi city of Basra in September 2003, including the death of Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist.

Yesterday the regiment said that if proved, the alleged actions could never be justified, but it appeared to question some of the thinking behind the charges, particularly against its then commanding officer, Colonel Jorge Mendonca, who has been charged with negligence.

Brigadier Geoffrey Sheldon, colonel of the regiment, said: "It should not be forgotten that Basra at the time of the alleged incidents was an intensely dangerous and violently difficult city suffering from rampant unrest, economic devastation and administrative chaos.

"We demand a very great deal of our young men at times such as that, and I ask that it be borne in mind at this difficult time."

But lawyers acting for Iraqi families said that the soldiers should be prosecuted in civilian rather than military courts, and claimed many more servicemen were involved in offences against Mr Mousa and eight other Iraqi civilians.

Phil Shiner, a solicitor with Public Interest Lawyers, said: "There is evidence that more officers were complicit and should be charged with war crimes.

"The announcement of charges for war crimes is only the tip of the iceberg."

Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, welcomed the war crime prosecutions and said the perception that UK forces were not above the law may help to stem the recruitment by radical factions of Muslims angry about the Iraq war.