(Adds details, background, context)
By Costas Pitas
LONDON, March 20 The gravest accusation in an
inquiry into abuse of Iraqis by British troops was effectively
dropped on Thursday when lawyers for relatives of dead Iraqis
said there was insufficient evidence they had been unlawfully
killed by soldiers.
The inquiry, which has cost 22.2 million pounds ($37
million) so far, has been set up to investigate allegations by
Iraqis that soldiers killed up to 20 men at an army camp in
2004, and mistreated up to nine detainees.
But lawyers representing the Iraqi relatives of those
allegedly mistreated or killed said there was not enough
evidence to establish that Iraqi civilians were unlawfully
killed in the custody of British troops.
"It is accepted that on the material which has been
disclosed to date there is insufficient evidence to support a
finding of unlawful killing in Camp Abu Naji," said John
Dickinson, a lawyer at Public Interest Lawyers (PIL).
The inquiry will hear testimony from a further witness and
closing submissions in April. Chairman Thayne Forbes will make
the final ruling on whether unlawful killing took place and
decide on other allegations of mistreatment and violence.
British authorities have said the 20 men died on the
battlefield, while relatives and local residents allege they
were captured alive and later executed and mutilated at the
British soldiers deny any mistreatment.
The inquiry is one element of a legacy of allegations dating
back to the Iraq war that haunt Britain almost three years after
the final British troops left in 2011.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence said it had long
argued there was no credible evidence for the allegations and
was pleased with Thursday's comments by the lawyers.
Over 42 weeks since March 2013, the inquiry has heard from
hundreds of witnesses, including 55 Iraqis speaking via video
link from abroad.
It has previously heard graphic evidence including that a
British soldier saw his platoon sergeant fire into the twitching
bodies of two Iraqi gunmen lying on the ground during a battle
A final report is expected in November.
(Reporting by Costas Pitas, editing by Kate Holton and Guy