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UK Shuts Down Contentious Probe into Iraq War Abuse Claims

British Defense Minister Michael Fallon talks to the media outside the presidential palace after a meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in Nicosia, Cyprus on Feb. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
British Defense Minister Michael Fallon talks to the media outside the presidential palace after a meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in Nicosia, Cyprus on Feb. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

LONDON — The British government announced Friday that it is shutting down a contentious seven-year-old inquiry into allegations of abuse by U.K. troops in Iraq.

Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said the Iraq Historic Allegations Team will close within months. About 20 cases it is investigating will be dealt with by the Royal Navy Police.

The team was set up by the government in 2010, but has long been criticized by portions of Britain's political and military establishment.

On Friday, Parliament's Defense Committee said the inquiry had become "a seemingly unstoppable self-perpetuating machine" and had empowered lawyers "to generate cases against service personnel at an industrial level."

One of the main lawyers acting for claimants was disbarred last week for dishonest conduct, and Fallon said most of the allegations against British troops have "fallen away."

Britain's 2003-2009 military deployment in southern Iraq spawned multiple allegations of torture and abuse.

Some of the claims have proven true. Nicholas Mercer, the army's chief legal adviser in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, said last year that the Ministry of Defense had paid 20 million pounds ($29 million) to settle 326 abuse cases.

In the most notorious case, 26-year-old hotel receptionist Baha Mousa died while in custody at a British base after being detained in a raid in Basra in September 2003. Six soldiers were cleared of wrongdoing at a court martial, while a seventh pleaded guilty and served a year in jail.

The head of the British Army, Gen. Nicholas Carter, said credible allegations of unacceptable behavior should be investigated.

"However, a significant number of claims made against our soldiers have not been credible," he said. "The recent exposure of unscrupulous law firms and vexatious claims has clearly shown this to be the case."

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