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Britain faces investigation in Iraqi abuse allegations

Defense officials say accusations taken seriously

By Paisley Dodds
Associated Press / November 15, 2009

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LONDON - Iraqi civilians who were detained by British troops during the US-led war have leveled some 33 allegations of rape and abuse against male and female soldiers, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said yesterday. The allegations come in the wake of the British withdrawal from Iraq this year.

One man says he was raped by two British soldiers while another says he was sexually humiliated by both male and female personnel. Others allege they were stripped naked and photographed in the same style as the notorious pictures at Abu Ghraib, where abuses of prisoners by US troops helped fuel anti-American sentiment.

British soldiers have faced a series of assertions that they mistreated Iraqi civilians in southern Iraq during six years of combat operations. Last year, Britain settled a legal case involving the death of one Iraqi civilian, and the abuse of nine others, paying out nearly 3 million pounds in compensation.

A public inquiry is underway into the death of hotel worker Baha Mousa. He died in the custody of British troops following a raid on his hotel in Basra in 2003 and suffered 93 separate injuries. British Corporal Donald Payne pleaded guilty to inhumanely treating Iraqi civilians in Britain’s first war crimes conviction.

“Given the history of the U.K.’s involvement in the development of these techniques alongside the US, it is deeply concerning that there appears to be strong similarities between instances of the use of sexual humiliation,’’ Phil Shiner, the lawyer representing the Iraqis who made the claims, said in a letter to the Ministry of Defense.

The Ministry of Defense said the allegations were being taken seriously.

“Over 120,000 British troops have served in Iraq and the vast majority have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behavior, displaying integrity and selfless commitment,’’ the ministry said in a statement. “There have been instances when individuals have behaved badly but only a tiny number have been shown to have fallen short of our high standards. Allegations of this nature are taken very seriously but must not be taken as fact. Formal investigations must be allowed to take their course.’’

Armed forces minister Bill Rammell said any new allegations of mistreatment will be investigated.

In one of the most serious allegations, a 16-year-old boy said that he was among a group of Iraqis in May 2003 who were taken to the Shatt-al-Arab British camp to help fill sandbags. In a statement reported by The Independent newspaper, he alleged when he entered a room to get more sandbags he saw two British male soldiers engaged in oral sex. When he tried to leave, he alleges the men started to beat and kick him. When he fell to the floor, he says one of the men held a blade to his neck while the other soldier stripped him naked. He says the two soldiers raped him.

In another accusation, a 24-year-old Iraqi said he was playing football in April 2007 when he was approached by British soldiers in vehicles and taken to a British base with another youth. When he arrived at the camp, he was allegedly surrounded by six to eight soldiers who ordered two of the young men to pick fights with one another. He alleges that the soldiers then stood on top of them and shouted and laughed.