Belfast solicitors help Iraqis sue US

Belfast law firm Madden & Finucane is helping the families of Iraqi civilians shot at a US Army checkpoint to take legal action against the American military.A three-strong delegation from the firm visited Iraq last week, where they met with local lawyers and representatives of human rights groups. They compiled a dossier on the checkpoint shooting and held a press conference with the families of those killed.

The firm is planning a £9.5 million suit in US civil courts for the wrongful deaths of four members of one family, shot dead by US soldiers. The Baghdad killings occurred on 7 August in the city’s Salaa district.

According to the families of the deceased, two cars in which the victims were travelling happened upon a hastily constructed US roadblock manned by the First Armoured Division. The division was in the process of raiding a suspected nearby hideout.

The first car, which contained three young men, was riddled with bullets when it failed to slow down, resulting in the deaths of Saif Raed Azawi, age 21, and a passer-by, Ali Hekmet, 31.

Seconds later, the second vehicle, carrying members of the al-Kawas family, was also shot at, resulting in another four deaths.

Adel Abdul Kareem Al Kawas and three of his children – Hadir who was 18, Ola, 16, and Mervit who was only 8 – died as a result of the attack. Adel Abdul, Kareem’s heavily pregnant wife, and another 13 year-old daughter, managed to survive the incident but received extensive shrapnel injuries.

Madden & Finucane says that concerns have been raised in relation to the witholding of medical treatment to those injured at the scene who subsequently died.

The father and his eight-year old daughter were taken from the site in a US military ambulance sometime after 10pm, but did not arrive at Baghdad’s “medical city” until more than an hour afterwards. Eyewitness reports, which the legal team has collected, say the man and his daughter could have survived but for the hour-long delay.

The surviving male occupants of the first car – who are aged 18 and 19 – were also injured in the attack. They were taken to a US military base where it has been confirmed by the ICRC that one is still being detained.

However, the whereabouts of the second, 19-year old, Ali Hussein Ali, remain unknown, and have yet to be confirmed by either the ICRC or the US military.

There has been no suggestion by either the American Army or eyewitnesses that the soldiers involved were under attack at the time of the shootings.

The Fourth Geneva Convention makes it unlawful for occupying forces to use excessive force against civilians. Any deliberate killing constitutes a grave breach under the Convention and is considered a war crime.

Ritchie MacRitchie, one of the firm’s solicitors, says discussions are already underway to pursue the case in America.

“We are currently discussing with legal contacts in America how to pursue a case for sizeable compensation, but that does not overcome the need for an independent investigation to bring those responsible to justice,” he said.

Solicitors from Madden & Finucane have also been advising lawyers involved in the commission investigating the shooting by Israeli police of 13 Israeli-Arab demonstrators in October 2000.