Almost 300 UK soldiers have been sent letters questioning their role in torture reports that emanated during and following the Iraq War. An estimated 280 war veterans have now been contacted in reference to investigations by the government-established Iraq Historical Allegations Team (IHAT); however, the number could reach up to 1,000.
Up to 55 deaths of civilians and military personnel during the height of the conflict, which took place between 2003 and 2009, will now be investigated although the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has insisted the "vast majority" of UK service personnel deployed on military operations "conduct themselves professionally and in accordance with the law". The news that former soldiers are to be questioned comes on the back of increased pressure on the government to publish the findings of the much-delayed Chilcot report on the Iraq War surrounding the conflict.
An MoD spokesperson said: "The MoD takes all allegations of abuse or unlawful killing extremely seriously. That is why we are ensuring that they are investigated to establish the facts."
A spokesperson for the IHAT added it was "standard police practice" to send letters as a means of contacting potential witnesses and said there was "no obligation" to respond to the enquiries and that it was "very much a matter for the individual".
The Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA) – the military version of the Crown Prosecution Service – is already investigating 35 alleged unlawful killings in addition to 36 cases of potential abuse and mistreatment during the conflict. It is also set to be involved in an additional 20 cases of unlawful killing and 71 cases of mistreatment.
Andrew Cayley QC, the director of the SPA, told The Independent he would "not flinch" in prosecuting British soldiers who were proven to have been involved in illegal acts. He said: "Make no mistake, we will give all these IHAT cases the thorough scrutiny the law requires and if prosecution is warranted."
He also added that "no member" of the British Armed Forces would be prosecuted "unless there is sufficient evidence to do so".