22 September 2005 Edition
Spotlight on British dirty war in Iraq
The British Army's carefully nurtured image of 'soft' occupation in Basra, was blown away last Monday in an episode which exposed Iraqi hatred and mistrust of occupying British forces.
It appears British undercover forces — in this case the Special Boat Service (SBS) — are up to their old tricks, fighting a dirty war against local people, killing with impunity.
The incident began on Sunday when British troops detained three fighters from the Mahdi Army, the local resistance force loyal to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The arrests provoked demonstrations by locals.
The following day, two SBS men in Arabic dress and driving a civilian car were stopped at a routine Iraqi police checkpoint. According to local reports, they opened fire on the police without warning, killing one and wounding another. Overwhelmed, they were arrested and taken to the police station.
The British version is that the two were taken by the police to the Mahdi, who took them into a residential house where they were likely to be executed. The Iraqi police, however, insist the men were still within the police compound.
Initial army reports also claimed that British officers simply "negotiated" the release of the men, but the trail of destruction left by armoured vehicles gave the lie to that. They were later forced to admit that a violent mission to spring the men from jail had taken place.
The scenario is reminiscent of many similar incidents in the North of Ireland -- the New Lodge killings is just one example. Undercover and heavily-armed special forces' agents were cruising the city in an unmarked car, apparently murdering people at will. British Army killers are being protected.
The question remains — as it does in the Six Counties, as to what exactly the unit's mission was. The British says they were on a reconnaissance operation but this doesn't explain why they felt it necessary to open fire on Iraqi police.
For Mark Thompson, of Relatives for Justice, the events are following a familiar pattern; British Army killings, followed by lies and cover-up and immunity for the perpetrators. "My fear is that the British Government has not learned anything from what happened in Ireland and has simply imported the policies which were carried out here and are continuing with them in Iraq, and believe me, that is what it was — British government policy" he said.
He is deeply sceptical of the official version of events. "If those men had really been taken by insurgents, they would have been killed and the insurgents would have killed themselves rather than let them be rescued. If they were really taken to a residential house, why haven't we seen images of that?"
"But once again, the British media is reporting the wrong story. Because the key question here is; are those soldiers going to be held accountable for the murder of the policemen, or is the culture of impunity which operated in Ireland going to be allowed to continue? It's time that human rights and law were paramount."