LONDON (Reuters) - An Iraqi man told a public inquiry in London on Wednesday that he was beaten, threatened with a metal tent pole and subjected to sleep deprivation by occupying British troops.
Madhi Jasim Abdullah Al-Behadili, 26, is the first of nine Iraqi former detainees who will give evidence at the Al-Sweady inquiry into alleged crimes by British troops after the battle of Danny Boy on May 14, 2004.
"I felt they were out to kill us," Al-Behadili told the inquiry on the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of his country, describing a moment when he was questioned and beaten while blindfolded shortly after arriving at Camp Abu Naji, a British base.
"From the way they treated us and from the violence, I wouldn't think otherwise. I would never think they would have any mercy on us," he said, speaking through an interpreter.
A large number of Iraqis from the area where the battle took place, near the southern town of Majar al-Kabir, say a group of men captured alive were murdered or tortured in detention.
The British military deny the allegations, which they say were part of a propaganda campaign against Iraq's occupation.
There is no agreement on the number or identities of the alleged victims. The inquiry says it aims to establish the circumstances of 28 deaths.
The issues of how and why Britain got involved in the Iraq invasion and how the war was conducted are still matters of lively public debate in Britain and Al-Sweady is one of three major public inquiries.
Al-Behadili said he had found himself in the area where the battle took place, near the Danny Boy checkpoint, because he was working on a farm there.
He denied having any weapons with him. Shown photographs of weapons including rocket propelled grenade launchers and Kalashnikov rifles, which the military say were found where he was captured, he denied any knowledge of them.
He also said he was alone when he was arrested, but the inquiry was shown pictures of him lying on the ground with his face down and his hands tied behind his back, alongside three other Iraqis. The military say he was found in a ditch with another Iraqi while another two people were in a nearby ditch.
The Al-Sweady inquiry, ordered by the government in 2009, began public hearings this month after three years of preliminary detective work. It has already cost the British taxpayer 16 million pounds.
Al-Behadili is the third of 15 key Iraqi witnesses who will be flown to London to give evidence. Then a further 45 will be flown to Beirut to testify by video-link from the British embassy there. About 200 British military witnesses will also give evidence.
The hearings are expected to last about a year.
Al-Behadili's evidence gave a flavour of the titanic task faced by inquiry chairman and retired judge Thayne Forbes.
Initially, the young man was taken without contradiction through his account of how he was arrested, taken to Camp Abu Naji where he was beaten and threatened with a metal pole, and later to Shaibah detention camp where he was deprived of sleep.
Then, his evidence was tested in forensic detail by Jonathan Acton Davis, counsel to the inquiry.
Reporting by Estelle Shirbon, editing by Paul Casciato