Iraq: Civilians Killed by UK Armed Forces and Armed Groups

Many cases of civilian killings by UK Armed Forces have not even been investigated, says the report. Investigations by the Royal Military Police (RMP) have been secretive, with families given little or no information about their progress. Amnesty International is calling for a civilian-led investigation into all killings by UK Armed Forces, with the findings made public.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“We are told in the UK that southern Iraq is comparatively safe and secure. Yet Iraqis on the ground have painted a very different picture. People live in fear of armed groups who can strike with seeming impunity.

“Killings by UK forces, in situations where they should not be using lethal force, are examined in secrecy and behind closed doors. Instead of the army deciding whether to investigate itself when civilians 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 organisation interviewed families and eyewitnesses, Iraqi police officers and Coalition Provisional Authority officials responsible for law and order.

It details numerous case studies of killings by UK Armed Forces and armed groups. One such case is that of eight-year-old Hanan Saleh Matrud, reportedly shot by a soldier from B Company of the First Battalion of the King’s Regiment in August 2003. An eyewitness disputes the UK army’s account of her death, according to which she may have been hit accidentally by a warning shot. The eyewitness told Amnesty International that Hanan was killed when a soldier aimed and fired a shot at her from around 60 metres away.

In January this year Ghanem Kadhem Kati’, a 22-year-old, unarmed man, was reportedly shot in the back outside his front door while celebrating a family wedding. UK soldiers, responding to the sound of bullets fired into the air in celebration, fired five shots at him from 50 yards away despite reportedly being told by a neighbour not to fire and that the earlier shots were in celebration. An RMP investigation is ongoing, but relatives have not been informed about claiming compensation.

Families are frequently given no information on how to lodge a compensation claim for the killing of family members. In some cases they are given wrong information, including that responsibility for compensation would rest with a new Iraqi government. The 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. As a result, people interviewed had little confidence in the compensation system.

The report also reveals killings of people, mainly Christians, involved in the alcohol trade. Licensed liquor sellers have been killed and their stores closed down. Sources report that around 150 Christian families have fled Basra. On 15 February 2004 a gang of 13 masked men opened fire with machine guns in the main street, in an area where alcohol was frequently sold, killing at least nine people.

Kate Allen said:

“Amnesty International calls on all armed groups and individuals in Iraq to respect the right to life and cease these killings immediately. The rule of law must prevail.”

Amnesty International welcomes efforts by the UK and other governments to strengthen the capacity of the Iraqi police force. Yet this must be matched by a willingness of the police to act in all cases of law-breaking. Not a single prosecution has been brought for ‘political’ killings and some police officers told Amnesty International that they felt the killing of former Ba’athists was justified.

Kate Allen concluded:

“If there is to be true security in Iraq, it is essential that justice is done and is seen to be done.”

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