The head of an official British investigation into alleged abuses during the Iraq War says that U.K. soldiers may face prosecution for crimes including murder.

Mark Warwick said the inquiry, called the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), is probing "lots of significant cases", and officials will discuss whether they meet the war crimes threshold. Warwick was quoted by The Independent newspaper as saying that he believed there would be sufficient evidence to justify criminal charges.

"There are serious allegations that we are investigating across the whole range of IHAT investigations, which incorporates homicide, where I feel there is significant evidence to be obtained to put a strong case before the Service Prosecuting Authority to prosecute and charge," he said.

IHAT was set up by the British Ministry of Defence in 2010 and is independent of the military for its investigations. Its mandate is to investigate Iraqi civilians' allegations of abuse at the hands of British armed forces between 2003 and 2009.


British soldiers secure the scene of a roadside bomb attack targeting a British patrol in Um Qasr, an Iraqi port city near Basra, on Jan. 31, 2006. An investigation is probing whether British troops committed abuses in Iraq. (Atef Hassan/Reuters)

British forces withdrew from Iraq in 2009. Lawyers are still referring cases to the British government-established criminal probe into murder, abuse and torture claims linked to the six-year military mission.

The inquiry has considered at least 1,515 possible victims, including 280 who were allegedly unlawfully killed.

The probe is not due to finish its work until the end of 2019.

The inquiry is led by Warwick, who is a retired senior civilian police detective, and includes members of the Royal Navy Police, civilian investigators and civil servants.

No prosecutions yet

The process has not yet resulted in any recommendations for a prosecution and it has been criticized by rights campaigners for moving too slowly. Warwick appealed for patience. 

"I think people need to understand the complexity, the volume and the geography aspects of this, and you can't underestimate putting those three factors together and trying to conduct ethical investigations," he told The Independent.

"Over the next 12 to 18 months, we will review all the caseload to better understand the picture and then I think we can say whether 2019 seems realistic," Warwick said.

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said it took all allegations of abuse or unlawful killing extremely seriously.

"The vast majority of U.K. service personnel deployed on military operations conduct themselves professionally and in accordance with the law," she said. "Where there is sufficient evidence, members of Her Majesty's Forces can be prosecuted."

In 2014, the International Criminal Court in The Hague reopened a preliminary examination of allegations of "systematic detainee abuse" by British troops in Iraq between 2003 and 2008. A wide-ranging British public inquiry into the Iraq War is likely to be published in mid-2016.

With files from The Associated Press and CBC News