The British Ministry of Defense was forced to authorize the inquiry named al-Sweady inquiry, after one of the victims aged 19, after the high court ruled that the ministry seriously breached its obligations under the Human Rights Act to investigate the matter while hiding evidence that could lead to soldiers’ convictions.
The inquiry will focus on the circumstances around a fierce firefight near the southern town of Majar al-Khabir in May 2004.
Fifteen Iraqi witnesses are expected to give evidence in person including the nine detainees and family members of the dead.
The Nine Iraqis say they were tortured, after being taken into custody at Shaibah base near Basra, and were kept imprisoned for four months.
The Iraqis say British soldiers took bodies of 20 murdered Iraqis along to the base.
“Probably the only thing that is certain is that 20 bodies were returned to the civilian population the day after the battle. Where they died is the central issue to be resolved by the inquiry," says John Dickinson, lawyer for the Iraqis,” the inquiry’ secretary Cecilia French told the BBC.
"Did they die in British custody, and if so how many? The essential complaint is that a number of Iraqis were taken from the battlefield alive and either in transit to the camp or at the camp were summarily executed,” French added.
This comes as Patrick Connor QC, who is the legal advisor to the nine Iraqis, told a pre-inquiry hearing last year that the detainees were given “truly shocking” treatment in British custody.
"Young men of 18, 19, and 20, some [were] seriously injured with gunshot wounds, being stripped naked, forced to stand, not given appropriate medical treatment, and threatened with violence whilst still under the shock of capture in the middle of the night," Connor said.
The inquiry is chaired by Sir Thayne Forbes, a former High Court judge, and is expected to last for about 12 months before reaching any conclusions.