At least two Iraqis claiming to have been beaten by British soldiers during a 2004 demonstration today said that they would take legal action against the British military and seek compensation.
The Iraqis told reporters they were among more than 200 people protesting against the lack of jobs in the Maysan provincial city of Amarah, 180 miles south-east of Baghdad, when a group of British soldiers fired rubber bullets at them and detained several before beating them at their nearby base.
It was not immediately possible to verify whether the Iraqis were those caught on the video allegedly shot by a British soldier. It showed several Iraqis being punched, beaten with batons and kicked following a protest in Amarah in January 2004.
“I was one of 250 unemployed people demonstrating in the street in 2004, but when we reached the governor’s office we were surprised by the presence of the British forces,” said Bassem Shaker, 27. “We started throwing stones at them because we believed that they were behind all our misery.”
At the time of the January 10, 2004 protest, the British military said shots were heard coming from among hundreds of protesters who had gathered in front of the office of the US-led coalition to demand jobs, and that Iraqi police, thinking they were under attack, opened fire.
Witnesses and officials said British troops and Iraqi police had fired at armed, stone-throwing protesters, killing six people and wounding 11.
British soldiers from the 1st Battalion of the Light Infantry, which were based in Amarah at the time, were seen moving in with armoured vehicles to support the police, according to witness reports at the time. Assailants in the crowd lobbed three explosive devices at them, believed to be hand grenades, the British military reported later that day.
Speaking at the office of anti-US Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Shaker said British troops fired volleys of rubber bullets at the protesters in a bid to disperse them.
“Then a group of British soldiers rushed out from their base and arrested nine of us, dragging us for about 30 yards to the governor’s office,” Shaker alleged.
“They were beating us with fists and batons and were kicking us. Then they cuffed our hands and also dragged us to their base, which is about 15 yards from the governor’s office, where they also beat us and frightened us with dogs before releasing us before sunset.”
Shaker said he didn’t report the abuse initially because he did not believe any officials would deal with their complaints because they involved British troops.
“But when we saw this tape and the amount of anger it caused inside and outside Iraq, we decided to come today to the al-Sadr office because we need them, after God, to help us to sue the British forces and compensate us.
“Those troops humiliated us and violated our rights to demand jobs.”
Al-Sadr official Sheik Oda al-Bahrani said Shaker and 14-year-old Tariq Abdul-Razzak both claimed they had been beaten and requested help to sue the British military and seek compensation.
The footage was first obtained by the News of the World, and sparked condemnations across the Middle East and Britain. The British military has launched an investigation and at least one man has been detained in relation to the probe.