Why we may never know if British troops committed war crimes in Iraq

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The Iraq Historic Allegations Team was set up by the government to investigate claims of the abuse of civilians. After its collapse, some fear the truth will never come out. By Samira Shackle

January 2004. The mobile phone footage is grainy, the sounds of a riot audible in the background. A group of British soldiers grab four Iraqi boys on the street and drag them into their barracks. The camera zooms in and out as the soldiers beat them. A soldier walks up to one boy and kicks him between the legs. Another punches a boy in the head and stomach. The soldier filming keeps up a steady patter. “Oh yes! You’re going to get it,” he says. He imitates their screams for mercy. “Oh please! Please no!” Other soldiers pass in and out of shot, apparently indifferent.

This footage, from southern Iraq, would be passed to the News of the World and published two years later. It was one of the first cases of British soldiers abusing Iraqi civilians to become public, and provoked fury both in Iraq and Britain. “Jail them,” demanded a Daily Star article. Across the Middle East, the footage looped on news channels. In the southern Iraqi city of Basra, where British troops were stationed, 1,000 people took to the streets in protest, chanting “No, no, Tony Blair” and burning British flags outside the consulate.

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