British troops in Iraq are afraid to open fire

British troops in Iraq "lack the confidence to open fire" because of a "fear of prosecution", says a confidential Ministry of Defence (MoD) report seen by The Sunday Telegraph.

It confirms that soldiers believe that if they shoot dead insurgents they will become embroiled in a "protracted investigation" and if prosecuted will receive "no support from the chain of command".

British troops show restraint when attacked in Basra

The study into soldiers' confidence is understood to have been ordered by senior officers because of a growing belief that the fear of prosecution could result in a soldier being killed because he was too scared to open fire.

Senior officers from the Land Warfare Centre flew to Iraq to question dozens of soldiers from the 7th Armoured Brigade. The report's observations are "drawn solely from those discussions".

Under the heading "Confidence to Open Fire", the report says: "All agreed that there was a certain British reticence to open fire, and that this was largely a positive feature at the start of an operational deployment. Further, given that this reticence will be reduced as the tour continues there should be some caution in case it is reduced too much. However, there remained a common belief that many soldiers lack the confidence to initiate opening fire when it is tactically and legally sound to do so.

"There is a widespread fear of being investigated for having opened fire, and of a protracted prosecution system that might ensue. Some believe that individual soldiers would not open fire as a result of this fear."

In a section headed "Lack of Support from the Chain of Command", the report indicates "widespread feeling that whilst the battalion/regiment would support an individual, the wider chain of command (senior officers) provided insufficient support".

The report follows persistent denials by the MoD of claims made by senior officers to this newspaper that soldiers were becoming "over cautious" because they feared investigation and prosecution.

The Royal Military Police Special Investigation Branch has conducted more than 150 investigations in Iraq involving British soldiers, with more than 100 of these launched after troops opened fire when attacked by insurgents.

The report's findings come at the end of a three-year investigation into the death of Sgt Steven Roberts, who was killed in a friendly fire incident in the opening days of the Iraq war. Five soldiers, including an officer, faced a variety of charges including murder, manslaughter and negligence over the death of Sgt Roberts, a tank commander, who was shot dead by a soldier under his command. On Thursday, the Attorney General told Parliament that none of the soldiers would face charges because of a lack of evidence.

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