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UK closes Iraq abuse inquiries with no prosecutions

A file photo of British troops in Iraq (by AFP)

British military inquiries into abuse against Iraqi nationals have been closed without a single prosecution being brought, even though the credibility of many "shocking and shameful incidents" during the war in the Middle Eastern country have been confirmed.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in a written statement on Tuesday that the Service Police Legacy Investigations, which was looking at claims of abuse in Iraq, had now "officially closed its doors."

Since it began, it assessed 1,291 allegations, Wallace said.

Some 178 allegations were formally pursued through 55 separate investigations, he said, but no soldiers were prosecuted.

According to the SPLI, in 2019, five people were referred to the military prosecutor, the Service Prosecuting Authority, but no charges were brought.

Wallace, however, admitted that some allegations against British troops had been credible.

"Not all allegations and claims were spurious, otherwise, investigations would not have proceeded beyond initial examination and no claims for compensation would have been paid," he said.

A total of more than £20 million have been paid in compensation settlements for abuse claims from Iraqi nationals.

"It is sadly clear, from all the investigations the UK conducted, that some shocking and shameful incidents did happen in Iraq," Wallace said. "We recognize that there were four convictions of UK military personnel for offenses in Iraq, including offenses of assault and inhuman treatment."

Wallace said that the British government "deplore[s] and condemn[s] all such incidents," but only offered an apology "to all those who suffered treatment at the hands of UK forces."

The Defense Ministry, which fears the investigations would end up in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, has so far prevented them from being conducted by anyone else.

Back in 2020, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said there was clear evidence that UK forces had been responsible for numerous war crimes, including illegal killings, torture, and rape, in Iraq. The ICC, however, decided not to pursue a formal investigation.

Earlier this year, the UK government proposed a bill to the House of Commons that would protect its military personnel from prosecution for any war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The proposed legislation would shield British troops from several other allegations such as willful killing, cruel and inhumane treatment, rendition, and hostage-taking.

In the face of condemnation from human rights groups, London put the legislation on hold.

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