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The Hague: Britain Could Have Committed War Crimes in Iraq

© AP Photo / Khalid Mohammed, FileBritish soldiers stand guard at Umm Qasr port in Basra, Iraq
British soldiers stand guard at Umm Qasr port in Basra, Iraq - Sputnik International
The UK is now facing a proper hearing in the international court over claims that its troops unlawfully killed and mistreated Iraqi citizens during the 2003-2011 War.

This Monday, Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda announced that there exists "reasonable basis" to think that the British Armed Forces committed a number of war crimes during the Iraqi conflict.

"The [prosecutor's] office has reached the conclusion that there is a reasonable basis to believe that members of the UK armed forces committed war crimes within the jurisdiction of the court against persons in their custody", the statement read, the Guardian reports.

A 74-page report detailing the claims was officially submitted to the annual assembly of States that accept the ICC's jurisdiction, and a formal judicial process is now due to begin.

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The report states that there is evidence of the British military violating international law by torturing and killing a number of Iraqi detainees, including civilians, who were placed under its custody.

At the same time, the ICC stated that there was "no reasonable basis to believe that war crimes… were committed by British armed forces in the course of their military operations," dismissing unverified claims of unlawful killings by the British soldiers operating on the field of battle.

The new report effectively reopens the Hague court's preliminary investigation into the misconduct by the UK military that dates as far back as 2006.

In that inquiry, the ICC also found evidence that the British servicemen engaged in the "willful killing and inhuman treatment" of Iraqi detainees in their custody.

Back in 2006, however, the ICC shelved its own investigation on the basis that it was based on less fewer than 20 claims of abuse.

READ MORE: High Court Blocks Prosecution Bid Against Former British PM Blair Over Iraq War

Nevertheless, Bensouda reopened the proceedings in 2014, when she received new information from a number of sources, including the embattled Birmingham-based law firm, the Public Interest Lawyers (PIL).

The PIL, which later dissolved when its founder was disbarred from being a practicing lawyer for mishandling some cases on behalf of the Iraqi claimants, represented the family of Baha Mousa in the UK courts.

Mousa was a hotel receptionist in Basra, who was taken into custody by British troops in the early days of the Iraq War.

After 36 hours in detention, where he suffered from the "lack of food and water, heat, exhaustion, fear, previous injuries and the hooding and stress positions used by British troops", Mousa was found dead.

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The revelations sparked an international outrage, as the Iraqi man suffered as many as 93 injuries, whilst in British custody.

An independent public inquiry into the incident called it an "appalling episode of serious gratuitous violence" and blasted the Ministry of Defense for the "corporate failure" to prevent the mistreatment and death of the detainee.

Although the UK government admitted that its military forces breached the European Convention of Human rights and a number of other international statues, its response to the case was unsatisfactory.

READ MORE: Inquiry Into Iraq Invasion Designed to Avoid Legal Claims Against UK

Six out of seven of defendants in Mousa's case were acquitted, whilst the remaining soldier only served one year in prison.

The renewed ICC investigation came as a surprise to the British military establishment, who were previously confident that the Hague court will not go forward with new proceedings.

A spokesperson for the UK Government, quoted by the Guardian, said that the existing legal mechanisms on the national level were sufficient to address the complaints, negating the need for the international court to intervene.

 "We are confident that our existing efforts to investigate allegations preclude the need for any investigation by the ICC," the spokesperson said.

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