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Costly war continues to cast shadow

British troops may have ended combat operations in Iraq in 2009 but, a decade after it started, the conflict remains unfinished business.

The Iraq War continues to cast a shadow over the UK, with ongoing questions about both the legality of the invasion, and the conduct of British troops.

The war lasted over six years, claimed the lives of 179 UK personnel and cost more than 9 billion, while more than 100,000 Iraqis are thought to have died between 2003 and 2009.

But the end of combat operations in April 2009 were not to be the last of the controversial subject.

The war sparked several public inquiries, two of which are still going on, and campaigners are calling for another one into alleged systemic abuse of Iraqis by UK troops.

Last week lawyers for nearly 200 Iraqi civilians appeared at the High Court in London to battle for an independent inquiry into allegations that British troops committed "terrifying acts of brutality".

The claims of human rights violations are being examined by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) but Public Interest Lawyers says abuse was "systemic" and the IHAT set-up is fatally flawed, while the MoD says an inquiry would be "inefficient, premature and disproportionate", and one could be set up later if needed.

If an inquiry does get the go-ahead, it would be the latest in a series of probes sparked by the Iraq War.

The overarching Iraq Inquiry, chaired by Sir John Chilcot, is yet to publish its final report into how Britain came to join the 2003 US-led invasion and the conduct of the conflict and it is unlikely that any findings will be published until at least the middle of this year.

Another public inquiry - again delayed by logistical difficulties - is finally due to start this year, looking into allegations that British soldiers murdered and tortured civilians during the Iraq War.

The Al-Sweady Inquiry is examining claims that UK soldiers murdered 20 or more Iraqis and tortured others after the "Battle of Danny Boy" in Maysan Province, southern Iraq, in May 2004, which is denied by the MoD.

Oral hearings are due to begin in March this year following months of information gathering, with statements from hundreds of witnesses including Iraqis as well as military personnel.

One inquiry to have been completed was into the brutal death of father-of-two Baha Mousa at the hands of British soldiers in Basra, southern Iraq, in September 2003. The inquiry released its report last year and in December former Army doctor Dr Derek Keilloh was struck off the medical register over Mr Mousa's death.

Dr Keilloh was the medic in charge who supervised a failed resuscitation attempt on Mr Mousa, who had been hooded, handcuffed and severely beaten by soldiers after his arrest as a suspected insurgent in war-torn Basra in September 2003.

But despite several inquiries already under way, campaigners argue that until there is an overarching probe into the conduct of British troops in Iraq, lessons will not be learned.

Phil Shiner, from Public Interest Lawyers, said they have received allegations from more than 1,000 Iraqis, including claims of torture, ill-treatment, unlawful detention, and even illegal executions.

He said there were many moving allegations of incidents, including a man shot dead after accidentally hitting a British soldier, and an eight-year-old girl shot by a tank whilst playing in the street.

"I could go on and on and on. We say all of this is systematic, nothing to do with bad apples," Mr Shiner said.

"It was not just special forces, it was the ordinary rank and file."

He said a public inquiry could expose the truth, and make sure lessons are learned.

"I believe that if we were to get our inquiry that we seek, if it's properly run with an independent judge, then unless the MoD start burning stuff, that inquiry judge will be able to get to the heart of how all of this was allowed and what changes need to be made for the future."

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