Baghdad judge clears pair of murdering six foreign soldiers

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A judge in Baghdad, Iraq has cleared two men of murdering six soldiers from the United Kingdom. Hamza Hateer and Mussa Ismael al Fartusi had their case kicked out prior to trial owing to a lack of evidence; they were alleged to be involved in a June 2003 mob attack on a police station.

At today's hearing, which had been postponed by a month to allow witnesses to travel, a panel of three judges spent three and a half hours to question those who were there. Sources disagree on the number of witnesses—between nine and eleven—none of whom said they had seen the accused participate in any violence. Most of those questioned were Iraqi police.

They wanted justice for the killing of their relatives

—Policeman and witness Ahmed Hassan Sayed

The killings in Majar al-Kabir followed a dispute at the local market in which British soldiers had argued with Iraqis over the use of dogs to search, which the locals were upset about, according to policeman Ahmed Hassan Sayed. He said gunfire followed and the soldiers killed around ten people. "I was inside the [police] station with the British soldiers. They had been coming twice a week for training... I heard sounds of shooting that got closer and closer. We saw a lot of people approaching the building. I told all my employees to leave. I also told the British to leave."

Sayed went on to say in his testimony that the British soldiers had refused to leave as they felt they were in the clear since they were present for training only. The police left the station via a back window; the British remained in the courtyard while around 400 people attacked. "What I understand is that this was an act of tribal vengeance. They wanted justice for the killing of their relatives," explained Sayed. "We fled through the back window and the British stayed behind."

Although no witnesses saw either defendant engaged in violence, one stated that Hateer took a dead man's weapon; he will be tried for its theft. The pair were among eight whose arrests were anounced in February; six were released without charge.

Judge Balee Hamdi told The Guardian that in releasing the men "I built my decisions on the evidence that was before me. The evidence was not sufficient to convict them." He also said that should rebels be convicted before him "[i]f they are here for resistance against occupiers, I will try to lessen the sentence."

A Ministry of Defence—the British organisation responsible for the country's army—spokesman responded to the news by saying that she knew that the victim's families will be "very disappointed," but, they said, "we have no choice but to respect the decision of the Iraqi judges. They will have weighed up the credibility and reliability of the evidence before reaching their verdict." They added: "However, this is not the end. Seven further arrest warrants remain outstanding and are being actively pursued by the Iraqi authorities."