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British veterans could face charges over Iraq War

The head of an official unit probing alleged abuses in Iraq between 2003 and 2009 has told "The Independent" newspaper that British troops may face prosecution. The allegations include unlawful killing and torture.

In an interview published Saturday by the British newspaper "The Independent," former police detective Mark Warwick who is leading the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) said:

"There are serious allegations that we are investigating across the whole range of probe investigations, which incorporates homicide, where I feel there is significant evidence to be obtained to put a strong case before the Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA) to prosecute and charge."

The SPA considers criminal cases within the armed services.

Ihat was set up by the Ministry of Defense in 2010 and is independent of the military for its investigations. It is currently dealing with more than 1,500 possible victims, according to its latest quarterly update. Some 280 of those victims are alleged to have been unlawfully killed.

"There are lots of significant cases that we are investigating and at the appropriate time it will be a matter for us to discuss with the SPA whether they meet the war crimes threshold," Warwick added in the interview.

The Ministry of Defense stated it was taking the claims "extremely seriously," but added that "the vast majority of UK service personnel deployed on military operations conduct themselves professionally and in accordance with the law."

Human rights groups criticize slow pace

Ihat's initial target for completion of its investigations was 2016, but Warwick warned that it may take beyond 2019 to work through all the claims.

Human rights groups criticized Ihat for its lengthy probes which have not yet resulted in any recommendations for a prosecution so far. "The incredibly slow pace... is wholly unacceptable," Carla Ferstman, director of the human rights charity Redress, told "The Independent."

"Things seem to still be moving at a snail's pace. This cannot be a whitewash," Ferstman added.

Warwick appealed for patience. "I think people need to understand the complexity, the volume and the geography aspects of this, and you can't underestimate putting those three factors together and trying to conduct ethical investigations," he said.

One of Ihat's best-known cases is the death of Iraqi hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, who was beaten by British soldiers in 2003. More than a decade later, Mark Warwick said the case remained "a live criminal investigation."

das/se (AFP, Reuters)