He welcomed the liberators. Then heard them kill his friend

By Severin Carrell

The Independent

01 August 2004

Kifah Taha al-Mutari remembers buying five flowers for his family to wave when British troops took control of Basra on 7 April last year. To him, like hundreds of thousands of others in the city, the British were liberators.

But 15 months on, Mr Mutari feels he has very little to celebrate, other than the fact he is still alive. Only a few months after the British unseated Saddam Hussein's hated regime, Mr Mutari was in a military hospital fighting for his life after three days of alleged sustained assaults by Queen's Lancashire Regiment troops - beatings which caused his kidneys to fail.

And last week, he was in London with the father of a man allegedly killed by the same soldiers for what promises to be a long series of legal battles over his case.

Mr Mutari was arrested by the QLR in a raid on a Basra hotel. That operation led to the death in custody of Baha Mousa, the hotel's receptionist, in the British headquarters in the city - a case first exposed by Robert Fisk in The Independent on Sunday. Mr Mutari and Col Daoud Mousa, the dead man's father, were key witnesses in last week's landmark three-day hearing at the High Court, which is investigating claims the Army broke human rights legislation and failed properly to investigate 37 cases of killings and abuse involving British troops.

They came to see British justice in action. Speaking to the IoS during the hearing, Col Mousa, a retired policeman, said: "When the occupation began, we thought we would realise justice and democracy. I have come to Britain to see democracy and justice at work." They believe the assaults were inspired by revenge. The QLR unit was told the hotel staff were terrorists linked to the murder several weeks earlier of a popular QLR officer, Capt Dai Jones.

An Army Special Investigation Branch officer later told Col Mousa their real suspect was the hotel's co-owner, Haitham Vaha, who escaped during the raid, and is now thought to be on the run.

Baha Mousa was subjected to particular abuse because his father had reported seeing QLR soldiers stealing money from the hotel safe.

The case still profoundly affects both men. Col Mousa was several times in tears during the hearing. Mr Mutari, an experienced and once well-paid electrical engineer, said he has "very miserable dreams" about the attack and suffers from tiredness and regular bouts of pain.

He has written two poems in Arabic about his experiences. One, "In the Torture Room", describes their bodies as being beaten as if they were just sacks of grain - the cheapest commodity in Iraq.

Neither of the men bears the British Army any ill-will. While highly critical of the failure of Army commanders to control their troops, Col Mousa remarked: "We will not forget that in very large armies, there will be people with no morals and very loose conduct." Mr Mutari agrees. "Not all men in the British Army are no good. I was in the British hospital for 64 days, and I had many friends there - good people."

Up to six QLR soldiers are facing courts martial over this case, and Col Mousa said he expects the Army to honour its promise to bring him back to Britain to see them stand trial.