Army 'Killing Civilians'
By Sanjay Suri
12 May 2004 by
The Inter Press Service
British army has been killing
civilians in areas of
southern Iraq that it controls, says a
report by Amnesty International.
The report follows
widespread news of
torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners
by British troops. While reports of such
abuse have been overshadowed by
photographs of abuse of Iraqi prisoners
by U.S. soldiers, the British government
too faces a growing scandal
over the conduct of its soldiers.
undated handout photograph released May 11, 2004, shows eight-year-old
Iraqigirl Hanan Salem Madrud who was allegedly shot dead by British
Basra according to a report by human rights group Amnesty International.
Britain has had
its own shocking
photographs of abuse of prisoners
by soldiers. Several of these photographs
have been carried in the Daily Mirror
newspaper. The Ministry of Defense
says it is investigating the authenticity
of the photographs.
The government was
further put in a spot
after it was revealed that the Red Cross
had sent in a report in March pointing
outgrave violations against civilians
and abuse of prisoners. A government
spokesman said action was taken after
receiving the reports, but declined to
say what action.
The new reports
have shattered a myth that some British media had been
building up that British forces were acting with far more restraint
forces and were being more respectful to the Iraqi population.
The Amnesty report
now points towards shooting of civilians. In several cases it documents
letters written by British officers in which they acknowledge that troops
killed civilians when there was no apparent threat from the victims
to themselves or to others.
Among those killed
in such firing was an eight-year-old girl and a guest at a wedding celebration,
the Amnesty report says.
Far from being
liberated, the people of Iraq continue to live in fear and insecurity,
Amnesty International said.
of civilian killings by UK armed forces have not even been investigated,
the Amnesty report says. Investigations by the Royal Military
Police (RMP) have been secretive, with families given little or no information
about their progress.
Amnesty says that
instead of the UK armed forces deciding whether to investigate
themselves when people are killed, there must be a full, impartial and
civilian-led investigation into all allegations of killings by UK troops.
The report 'Killings
of Civilians in Basra and al-'Amara' is based on research carried out
by Amnesty International delegates in February and March of this year.
The organization says it interviewed families of the deceased and eyewitnesses
to the killings, Iraqi police officers and Coalition Provisional Authority
officials responsible for law and order.
The report details
numerous killings by UK armed forces and armed groups.
One such case is
that of eight-year-old Hanan Saleh Matrud. The British army had claimed
that she may have been hit accidentally by a warning shot. But according
to Amnesty, an eyewitness said that Hanan was killed when a soldier
aimed and fired a shot at her from around 60 meters away.
An army spokesman
has said the eyewitness statement has not been proven but accepted
as a possibility.
The Ministry of
Defense has acknowledged that British forces have been involved in the
killing of 37 civilians since May 1 last year. It acknowledges also
that this figure is not comprehensive as it is sometimes impossible
for soldiers to confirm the number of casualties in a specific incident.
In January this
year Amnesty says Ghanem Kadhem Kati, a 22-year-old unarmed man, was
reportedly shot in the back outside his front door while celebrating
a family wedding. British soldiers fired five shots at him from 50 yards
away, despite reportedly being told by a neighbor not to fire and that
the earlier shots were in celebration.
An army investigation
is ongoing, but relatives have not been informed about the procedures
for claiming compensation, says Amnesty.
frequently given no information on how to lodge a compensation claim
for the killing of their relatives, the report says. In
some cases they are given wrong information, including that responsibility
for compensation would rest with a new Iraqi government.
An Area Claims Officer,
to whom claims must be submitted, is situated in an area difficult to
access for ordinary civilians (Basra airport) and there is little explanatory
information provided on the claims process in English or in Arabic,
Amnesty says. As a result, people interviewed had little confidence
in the compensation system.
In several cases
British officers have written to families. Amnesty reproduces the following
letter sent to the Beni Skein group on August 17 last year. The letter
is signed by Lieutenant Colonel Ciaran Griffin. It states:
On the night
of 4 August 2003 a patrol from the 1st Battalion The King's Regiment
observed a lot of shooting from the area of Al Majdiyah and believed
that there was a dangerous gun battle taking place. They drove to the
edge of the village and went in on foot to investigate. The night was
very dark, as there was no electricity for street lighting and the moon
had set. The patrol encountered two men, who appeared to be armed and
a direct threat to their lives, so they opened fire and killed them.
it became clear that the heavy shooting in Al Majdiyah was in sympathy
for the funeral of a local man and that the two men who were shot by
the British patrol had not intended to attack anyone. We greatly regret
the deaths of Hasim Jumah Gattah and Abed Abdul-Kareem Hassan and we
hope to work with the Ben Skein and all other tribes to avoid this type
of misunderstanding in the future.
An army spokesman
said that there are a number of investigations into allegations
of mistreatment under way, but until we see the report we cannot really
comment in detail.
IPS - Inter Press Service