In light of Tuesday’s news story detailing how a British sniper faces investigation for shooting dead an Iraqi insurgent, we look at why it is that so many Brits are facing prosecution over the Iraq War.
We are all aware of the catastrophic situation that currently exists in Iraq. A recent UN Report outlines the extent of the chaos in the country, with the reporting period specifically covering 1 May to 31 October 2015, and focuses on the impact the conflict has had on civilians. The report states that during this said period, ‘the ongoing violence caused a minimum of 10,911 civilian casualties, killing at least 3,855 persons and wounding 7,056′, though the actual number could be even higher than that recorded. Daesh (another term for IS) are accused of being responsible for much of this widespread violence and according to the report, many of the acts they have committed breach international human rights law and in some cases, may amount to crimes against humanity, war crimes and perhaps even genocide. It is also noted that between January 2014 and September 2015, a staggering total of 3,206,736 people became internally displaced in Iraq.
So what is Britain doing about it?
After a UK air strike against Daesh targets in Iraq was sanctioned back in September 2014, our involvement in this conflict has not faltered. The UK has participated actively in air strikes conducted by the US-led coalition over the past months. Just last month, the Royal Air Force provided air support to the Iraqi army to help with their ongoing mission to retake the city of Ramadi, after it was captured early last year by Daesh militants.
According to the latest update from the MoD, Typhoons were in action over Ramadi last Thursday delivering attacks on a group of Daesh fighters, a firing position and a mortar team, while that same night, three buildings in a IS-held compound were also bombed.
British sniper faces investigation
The Telegraph published an article this week detailing how a British sniper is being investigated after having shot dead an Iraqi insurgent, who was preparing to fire a grenade at a British base, because he did not shout a warning. This case was described in a story released by pressure group UK Veterans – One Voice, which condemned the investigation into the unidentified soldier’s actions.
The tale tells of how this Iraqi had previously threatened to attack the base with a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) and had actually carried out such an attack on one occasion. Fortunately, no one was injured. Then on the day in question, this same insurgent returns with his RPG, but before he could fire, he was shot dead by ‘a veteran of long military service, a graduate of the Army Sniper School’. And now this British sniper, despite preventing an attack on the military base, is subject to an investigation after failing to shout a warning.
The inquiry was instigated by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), an organisation that was set up by the Ministry of Defence to investigate allegations of unlawful killing and abuse. Due to the marked increase in the number of cases (more than 1500) being investigated by IHAT, compared with the original 152 allegations they were supposed to be handling, the team has been accused of running a witch hunt against British soldiers who served in Iraq.
Iraq War veterans face prosecution
It has recently come to light in the media that many Iraq war veterans may face prosecution for crimes including murder, as a result of IHAT’s investigations, according to the head of the organisation, Mike Warwick. Despite the withdrawal of UK forces from Iraq in 2009, lawyers are continuing to refer cases, concerning alleged abuse carried out by soldiers, to the Iraq Historic Allegations Team.
Mr Warwick told The Independent:
There are serious allegations that we are investigating across the whole range of IHAT investigations, which incorporates homicide, where I feel there is significant evidence to put a strong case before the Service Prosecuting Authority
He added that even a notorious case dating back to 2003, concerning an Iraqi hotel receptionist who died after being abused while held in custody by British soldiers, remains a ‘a live criminal investigation’.
It is not surprising that human rights groups, such as Redress, are concerned about the lack of progress made by the organisation, especially considering that no prosecutions have been made after five years of investigation. Campaigners are eager to see the pace of the investigation quickened. IHAT initially were meant to have completed its investigations by 2016, but it is apparent that this target will not be met. The organisation’s budget runs until the end of 2019, but it remains unclear whether or not the investigation will be completed by this later date either. ‘Over the next 12 to 18 months, we will review all the caseload to better understand the picture and then I think we can say whether 2019 seems realistic’ Mr Warwick told The Independent.
According to IHAT’s latest quarterly update, covering the period July 2015 – September 2015, 712 victims were added to their caseload during this quarter. Thus, as of 30 September 2015, the total number of victims they had been allocated had increased to 1514; this number comprises of 1235 victims of ill treatment and 280 victims of unlawful killing. However, the report indicates that only 25 out of the 280 cases of alleged unlawful killing are currently under investigation and only 45 of the reported cases of ill-treatment.
RAF potentially involved in deaths of Iraqi civilians
It is not only veterans under investigation as The Telegraph reports that the UK is under pressure to investigate the possibility that our air strikes carried out by the RAF in Iraq have resulted in civilian casualties. While the Government maintains that its bombing campaign in both Iraq and Syria has not resulted in any civilian casualties, Airwars, a monitoring group, has said that in December alone, RAF air strikes in the cities of Mosul and Ramadi, may have killed 32 civilians.
Earlier this month, Airwars sent a letter to the defence ministry detailing eight different incidents, one of which took place on December 21 in Mosul, Northern Iraq, killing at least 12 civilians. According to Chris Woods, director of Airwars, the ramifications of this air strike have been supported by 19 separate sources, including photographs and videos. Though the Ministry of Defence has previously claimed that there exists no evidence to support these sorts of claims, Michael Fallon, Defence Secretary, has said that the government would ‘look into any evidence brought forward in open source reporting’. Mr Woods has expressed his concerns that Fallon appears to dismiss the issues raised by Airwars without offering any sort of explanation.
Perhaps all these allegations against British troops highlight why it is vital, now more than ever, that the Chilcot report into Iraq is published. The text of this long-awaited report is due to be finalised mid-April and should be published in June or July after various national security checks have been conducted.