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British Soldiers Did Not Murder Iraqi Insurgents After Fierce 2004 Battle, Inquiry Finds

Detainees "deliberately lied" to inquiry and made numerous "baseless allegations" about 2004 battle
December 17, 2014, 8:35pm
Photo by Reuters

Allegations that British forces murdered and mutilated Iraqi insurgents after a violent battle in Iraq a decade ago are "baseless," according to findings from a UK public inquiry released.

These accusations, which were made by Iraqi detainees and witnesses, were the product of "lies, reckless speculation, and ingrained hostility," according to a verdict by the al-Sweady inquiry — named after an Iraqi teenager killed during the clash in question, known as the battle of Danny Boy.


The investigation also concluded that soldiers had subjected detainees to mistreatment including depriving them of food and sleep, blindfolding them and threatening them. However, Inquiry chairman and former high court judge Sir Thayne Forbes said in a statement that the detainees had all "deliberately lied" when explaining their presence on the battlefield that day, and had made false allegations of "ill-treatment."

At the end of his 1,350-page report about the investigation, Forbes concluded that the most serious allegations made against the soldiers were "wholly without foundation."

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The public inquiry cost 25 million pound sterling ($39.1 million) and was established in the wake of accusations that after the three-hour long battle, British soldiers had taken Iraqi's captive at their base, where the troops allegedly tortured and murdered some of the detainees.

The Ministry of Defense, however, said that 20 men taken to the base had died in battle and their bodies were removed to see if a man suspected of the murder of six royal military policemen in Majar Al Kabir in June 2003 was among the dead — a claim that the inquiry accepted. All 20 bodies were placed in cold storage and returned to their families the following day.

The May 2004 battle began when Iraqi insurgents swarmed British vehicles in retaliation for damage caused to the dome of a mosque during the previous day's fighting. It resulted in the deaths of 28 insurgents and the capture of nine detainees. Several British soldiers were also wounded.


It was originally reported that the men had died from a "bayonet charge," however, the inquiry found that they had all died from gunshot or shrapnel wounds.

The central allegation in the judicial review was that 20 or more Iraqi citizens were murdered at Camp Abu Naji following their capture and detention.

Mizal Karim al-Sweady, the father of 19-year-old Hamid al-Sweady, was one of 15 Iraqis flown to the UK to give evidence. He said British soldiers attacked his son, who was in the fields studying for a physics exam.

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When the body of his son was returned to him the next day by British armed forces, he claimed that Hamid's jaw was dislocated, right arm was fractured, and that he had bullet wounds to the middle of his neck and right foot.

In a statement he told the inquiry: "I saw a combination of injuries such as eyes missing, tongues cut out, noses cut off, teeth removed, bodies had been distorted and mutilated, and covered in blood."

The inquiry heard that there were discrepancies between statements the teen's father gave to Iraqi Police, the Royal Military Police and the investigation itself, however, and ultimately Forbes rejected his account. The inquiry sunsequently determined Hamid had been killed at the site of the battle.

In March, lawyers acting for several Iraqi families withdrew their allegations that men had been mistreated and killed after admitting there was "insufficient material" to support them. The Ministry of Defense has always vigorously denied the accusations.


"The detainees all deliberately lied when giving their explanation for their presence on the battlefield that day and in their allegations of ill-treatment," said Forbes.

However, according to Forbes, the "most significant lie" was that Hamid was alive at capture when he had been "killed outright" on the battlefield.

The detainees and a number of Iraqi witnesses gave evidence that was "unprincipled in the extreme" and "wholly without regard for the truth," Forbes said.

He added that every one of the 28 men was an "active and willing participant in the ambush."

In a House of Commons statement, the Conservative defense secretary Michael Fallon said the findings were "incontrovertible."

"British soldiers did not carry out the atrocities that had been falsely attributed to them," he told MPs. Fallon also criticized the law firms who represented the detainees in the case, saying they were being investigated violating professional standards.

Follow Ben Bryant on Twitter: @benbryant