Though some are sceptical
|Nine people, mostly Iraqi police officers, were charged with killing the British soldiers in Basra [GALLO/GETTY]|
Two Iraqi men accused of participating in the mob killing of six British troops in Basra in 2003 have been acquitted by an Iraqi court.
According to the court ruling on Sunday, the evidence against Hamza Hateer, 33, and Mussa Ismael
al-Fartusi, 39 was not enough to prosecute them.
The six military policemen were killed when a mob of about 400 people stormed a police station in Majar Al-Kabir, southern Iraq, on June 24, 2003. The soldiers were on an assignment to train local police, following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government.
According to Abu Maryam, the village chief, four Iraqis were also killed and 17 injured in the incident.
Baleagh Hamdi Hikmat, the chief justice, dropped the charges after no witnesses were presented in Baghdad’s central criminal court. All of the nine people, mostly Iraqi police officers, who were questioned by the three-judge panel said that they did not witness the killings of the Royal Military Police officers.
However one of those questioned said he saw one defendant taking the weapon of one of the dead soldiers.
“He [the man accused of taking the weapon] could have been charged theft,” Jane Arraf, a journalist in the Iraqi city Irbil, told Al Jazeera. But the case was not “tried in a way that would satisfy a lot of the families” of dead soldiers, Arraf said.
Mohsen Hammadi, the former police chief of the station where the British officers had become trapped , said in his testimony: “When people started to gather around us we tried to run away through a rear window at the station. But the British soldiers refused, saying they had no orders to withdraw. After the attacks intensified I got out through the window and ran home. When I left they (British soldiers) were still alive. I didn’t see the two accused and don’t have any information about their participation in the crime.”
Similar testimonies were given by other witnesses who said that villagers were angry with the police officers for using dogs during searches, which are considered unclean by Muslims.
Eight Iraqis had been arrested earlier this year in connection with the killings, but charges were dropped against all but two men.
Dima Naaman, spokeswoman for the British embassy in Baghdad, confirmed that the embassy was aware of the men’s acquittal but declined further comment.
The father of Simon Miller, one of the killed military policemen, said he was “devastated” by the ruling.
John Miller, 59, from northeast England, said: “My son was let down so badly in life, now he has been let down so badly in death. I’m devastated, I just can’t believe it.”
Hussein Ali, defence lawyer, said that Fartusi would be freed but Hateer still faced a charge of stealing a British army rifle.
At least 179 British soldiers were killed in Iraq from March 2003 until British forces formally handed over control of their last outposts to the Iraqi military.