- The British army has issued a public apology for brutally
beating Iraqi civilians in the town of Majar al Kabir, 120 miles north
- According to the Daily Mirror newspaper, on August 23
soldiers from the 22nd Special Air Service (SAS) clubbed and kicked 11
Iraqis they falsely believed to have been involved in the killing of six
British military police officers in the town on June 25.
- The elite troops-which specialise in counterinsurgency
operations and counterrevolutionary warfare-used stun grenades to swoop
on three houses in the town, kicking in doors and lashing out with boots
and rifle butts against the occupants. A woman was amongst those injured.
- The owner of one house in which nine men who were watching
TV were arrested, butcher Moayad Jabar, told the newspaper: "It was
about 11 p.m. when suddenly I heard an explosion and the door was kicked
- "Lots of soldiers rushed in pointing rifles at us
and screaming 'Down! Down! Down!' Others came into the back at the same
time. They made us lie down on the ground and wouldn't let us speak. I
was very afraid because I didn't know what was happening.
- "They started to pull my cupboard doors off and
empty all my possessions on the floor. The women and children were frightened
and crying. Then the men dragged us to armoured cars putting their boots
on our heads all the way to the army base."
- Basim Hasan, also a butcher, received a black eye and
cuts to his face. He told the Mirror's reporter Tom Newton Dunn: "When
I was lying down one of the soldiers stamped on my head. My face hit the
ground so hard I lost consciousness."
- Abdule Amer, a chemistry teacher, explained: "We
didn't offer any resistance. I asked one soldier 'Do you speak English?'
But he kicked me in the face, giving me a black eye and nose bleed."
- The home of vegetable seller Choban Jasem was raided
at the same time. His sister-in-law had begged the soldiers not to hurt
her children and was struck over the head with a rifle butt in response.
- Jasem, who is 62, said: "While I was on the ground,
a soldier kicked me hard on the nose. I started bleeding heavily.
- "Then they dragged me to an armoured car outside
through rocks on the street, which gave me a big cut on my knee. I didn't
know why they were taking me and thought I was going to die. I kept asking
them 'Why, why?' But they told me to shut up."
- The 11 were handcuffed and removed to the headquarters
of the King's Own Scottish Borderers regiment, where they were beaten again.
Only after 18 hours, when it had been established from photographs and
a list of names that the wrong men had been arrested, were the group released.
- The Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London claimed to know
nothing of the savagery of the SAS, despite the incident occurring almost
two weeks before the Mirror broke the story. A spokesman claimed it would
investigate the allegations but said it was unaware that any of the civilians
had been mistreated. Yet just one day later it was reported that the MoD
has agreed to pay a few hundred pounds in compensation to each of those
arrested because they were innocent.
- However, a spokesman said the payments still did not
mean the MoD accepted allegations that SAS soldiers had abused the men
during the raid. A spokesman claimed, "Some people received minor
injuries, but that is part of the nature of this kind of operation."
- He added that there is not likely to be any further investigation
into the matter.
- Within Majar al Kabir itself, however, the armed forces
were forced to issue an unprecedented public apology for the troops behaviour,
such is the outrage amongst local people.
- Town leaders warned the Mirror that British soldiers
were now in danger. Council leader Sadek Al-Hul warned, "I've told
the British that people are very angry with them over what they did. The
next time soldiers come to arrest anyone here I expect they'll be shot
at." And Basim Hasan complained: "My father and brother were
hanged by Saddam Hussein because all my family fought him. We welcomed
the British. Now they've done this to us.
- "The way we were treated is how Saddam's people
would have treated us. They've made a very bad mistake. I don't want to
have to fight them like I fought Saddam."
- Like Basra, Majar al Kabir is a Shia town, and had been
one of the centres of opposition to Saddam Hussein's regime. But the increasing
arrogance and brutality of British forces, whose intrusive weapons searches
of homes over the last months have made the colonial character of their
occupation clear, has inflamed popular resentment.
- The death of the six military police officers following
one such raid was the largest British loss of life in a hostile incident
- Fearing similar retaliatory action, Major Stuart Irvine
of the British army distributed an open letter offering his "humblest
apologies" for the incident, and pledging a full investigation and
compensation for injuries and wrongful arrest.
- The letter accepted that "Eleven townsfolk were
arrested and treated very badly. All were arrested without reason.
- "The incident happened as we are still trying to
bring those people who killed our six military police colleagues to justice."
- The letter attempted to dissociate troops based in Majar
from the SAS unit responsible for the raid, stating, "The operation
was conducted by a small group of coalition forces. These people were not
from Camp Abu Najir nor were they the soldiers stationed in Majar."
- The revelations of events in Majar came just one day
after British army officer, Colonel Tim Collins, was cleared by an internal
investigation of charges of committing war crimes in Iraq.
- Collins had been lionised by the British press after
he made a speech to his unit on the eve of the war telling them: "We
go to liberate, not to conquer. If you are ferocious in battle, remember
to be magnanimous in victory."
- The colonel had been accused by a US army reservist of
ill-treating Iraqi POWs and civilians, but the MoD said no criminal proceedings
or internal disciplinary action would be brought against Collins who is
now tipped for promotion.
- The colonel's investigation hit the headlines because
he was cleared. There have been numerous other charges against British
soldiers for brutalising Iraqi civilians, however, including photographs
apparently taken by troops showing them engaged in the torture of their
captives. News of such incidents is barely reported, and little details
given of the outcome of any investigations.