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Inquiry opens into claims British troops murdered Iraqis

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A long-awaited public inquiry into allegations that 20 or more Iraqi civilians were murdered by British troops in Iraq nine years ago opened in London on Monday.

The Al-Sweady Inquiry, named after one of the dead men, 19-year-old Hamid Al-Sweady, will examine claims British soldiers unlawfully killed detainees following a gun battle at a checkpoint in Maysan Province, southern Iraq, in May 2004.

It will also look into allegations that detainees captured at the same time were mistreated at a British base, Camp Abu Naji, and at a detention facility at Shaibah Logistics Base between May and September that year.

Britain's Ministry of Defence (MoD) vigorously denies the allegations, arguing the inquiry is "premature and disproportionate" as there is no evidence to support the case.

The inquiry, first ordered by the British government in 2009, is being chaired by a former High Court judge, Thayne Forbes, and began with an opening statement from counsel to the inquiry Jonathan Acton Davis.

The inquiry team has already taken statements from Iraqi witnesses in Beirut and Istanbul, as well as from military witnesses, and has trawled through mountains of evidence.

Some 15 Iraqis will travel to Britain to give evidence to the inquiry later this month, including Hamid Al-Sweady's uncle Khuder Al-Sweady and several other detainees.

The MoD says it has already settled 227 claims with compensation payouts totalling £15.1 million (17.6 million euros, $23.7 million) over human rights violations by British troops in Iraq between 2003 and 2009.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130304/inquiry-opens-claims-british-troops-murdered-iraqis