Soldiers who served in Basra in 2007 say they were told they could shoot anyone holding a phone or a shovel, or acting in any way suspiciously
'The British army operated rules of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan that at times allowed soldiers to shoot unarmed civilians who were suspected of keeping them under surveillance, a Middle East Eye investigation has established.
The casualties included a number of children and teenage boys, according to several former soldiers interviewed by MEE.
Two former infantrymen allege that they and their fellow soldiers serving in southern Iraq were at one point told that they had permission to shoot anyone seen holding a mobile telephone, carrying a shovel, or acting in any way suspiciously.
The rules were relaxed, they say, in part because of concerns that unarmed individuals were acting as spotters for militants, or were involved in planting roadside bombs.
Separately, a former Royal Marine says that one of his officers confessed to his men that he had been responsible for the fatal shooting of an Afghan boy, aged around eight, after the child’s father carried his body to the entrance of their forward operating base and demanded an explanation.
Another ex-soldier who spoke to MEE alleges that a cover-up was mounted after the fatal shooting of two unarmed teenage boys, which he says he witnessed in Afghanistan.
A pair of Soviet-era weapons were removed from a store at the British soldiers’ base, he said, and placed next to the bodies to give the false impression that the teenagers had been armed Taliban fighters.
This man says he saw similar weapons being stored at other bases. “I’m fairly sure that they were being kept for that purpose. We were visited daily by troops from headquarters, and these weapons could easily have been catalogued and sent back.”
One ex-soldier says he witnessed the fatal shootings of significant numbers of civilians in Basra, and does not believe that all the victims were keeping British troops under surveillance. He claims that the relaxing of the rules of engagement resulted in “a killing spree”.
He and his fellow soldiers were promised that they would be protected in the event of any investigation by military police, he says. “Our commanders, they would tell us: ‘We will protect you if any investigation comes. Just say you genuinely thought your life was at risk - those words will protect you.’”'
Read more: ‘Killing spree’: UK soldiers told to kill unarmed citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan