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SBS Hero Butchered in Baghdad


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Butchered in Baghdad
Last updated at 19:04pm on 27th July 2007
The Daily Mail

This SBS hero, K2 mountaineer and bodyguard to the Beckhams was killed by five NATO-trained Iraqi police officers. Was it for falling in love in Baghdad - or for what he knew about the city's missing 4.5 billion? Brian Tilley was jolted awake at 8am by his mobile phone. A good friend was calling to check that Brian was OK; something told him he was in danger. Like Brian, he was a former special-forces man working the lucrative private-security sector in Iraq. His instinctive concern for his friend was on the money. Brian would be dead within minutes.

The previous evening, Brian's flight out of Iraq to the UK had been cancelled. He had decided to pay a visit to his fiancée Iman, an Iraqi woman with whom he had fallen in love, and her family. The problem was that the family lived in Baghdad's Dawra district, a notorious warren of alleyways and shacks and a local insurgents' stronghold. A no-go zone since 2003 for all British and Americans, Dawra was well away from the relative safety of the Coalition-controlled Green Zone
in Baghdad. But Brian was a fearless veteran of 20 years with the elite Special Boat Service, the ultra-covert sister regiment of the SAS.

He had been a regular visitor to Dawra. His years of working in some of the most dangerous places in the world made him confident. And anyway, he was more than prepared to take a bit of a risk to see Iman. He spoke good Arabic. He drove to Iman's house using his own car, wearing an Arabic "shamag" headscarf and robes. With his dark, unshaven features, he blended in well with the locals and spent the evening with Iman and her family.

Brian's response to the phone call the next morning was typical. He gave a drowsy laugh and told the caller not to worry; he'd catch him for a beer later that day. Seconds after Brian hung up, there was an explosive splintering of wood. The front door was kicked down. Five men wearing Iraqi police uniforms
crashed through what was left of the doorway. At gunpoint, they threw Iman's family to the floor and pinned them there. "Nobody move!" they screamed in Arabic. Iman's sister and brother-in-law, Bushra and Nassar al-Obaibi, had been sleeping with their daughters, Rasha and Mariam, on mattresses in the living room. Brian and Iman were sharing the bedroom at the back.

Their door was wrenched open and one of the Iraqis dragged them out. The intruders screamed abuse at Brian. He stayed calm and tried to talk them down, but the gunmen flew into a wild rage. "This is the Englishman in your house? You keep this Englishman in your house?" they kept screaming to Iman and her family.
Nassar al-Obaibi tried explaining that Brian was a friend of the family, but that enraged the gunmen still more. Brian showed them his American military issue and security company ID cards, saying that he worked for the Coalition forces. The police opened fire, shooting him in the foot. Then they set about him, beating him around the head with their automatic rifles. Two of them dragged him into the kitchen, where the savage assault continued. Iman could take it no more. "He is my future husband and I love him," she cried out. No sooner had she done so than they opened fire on her. Iman collapsed on to the couch, her body riddled with bullets, and then they turned their guns on the rest of the family.

Mariam, 15, dived beneath a blanket. The bodies of her family fell on top of her. When the shooting finally stopped, she peeped out. But a gunman spotted her and shot her in the face. The bullet missed her brain, but Mariam was hit in the jaw and lost consciousness. When she came to sometime later she was covered in blood. "I crawled with the blanket covered in blood into the kitchen," she recalled later. "I saw Brian lying in the back yard. All around him was blood…" The
phone with which he had reassured his friend moments before lay nearby.

We are not supposed to know anything of his death on May 13, 2004. His killers intended there to be no witnesses to his brutal execution, or the massacre of the al-Obaibi family. But Mariam had survived, and when US soldiers arrived at the scene she was able to describe the attackers. None of the five policemen had their faces covered when they carried out the killings, so Mariam was in no doubt about who shot her family. She identified the killers twice – immediately after the killing from pictures on a computer, and several months later in an identity parade.

Still there was disbelief that Iraqi policemen could have killed them. But further evidence provided a darker twist still. Tilley's body was repatriated to England, where a coroner opened an inquest into his death. Home Office pathologist Dr Allen Anscombe conducted the post mortem and confirmed that Tilley had died of gunshot wounds, and that the size of the entry wounds in Brian's body could only fit 5.56mm Nato-standard bullets, as opposed to the 7.62mm bullets normally used by the Iraqi police force. I later discovered that the bullets recovered from the crime scene were sent to the National Ballistics Centre in Manchester and were examined by the British police. Again it was concluded that they were the smaller 5.56mm Nato-issued rounds.

In other words, the five Iraqi police officers who shot a highly decorated British special-forces veteran were almost certainly members of Iraq's new police force, trained and armed by British and American forces with the Nato-issue bullets. The conclusion was part of a detailed report by Dorset Police – Tilley came from Poole and his body was returned to the jurisdiction of the Dorset Police – about the killings, which they handed to the Iraqi authorities earlier this year.

The comprehensive dossier includes photos of the crime scene, witness statements and the identification of the five killers. Not that the Iraqi authorities needed any help. The five policemen identified by Mariam were arrested, charged and held in Abu Ghraib prison. Their trial was keenly anticipated. Lawlessness and corruption among the Iraqi police force is rife.

The trial of Tilley's killers was a real opportunity to tell the world that Iraq's justice system can keep the peace, at a time when talk of US and UK military withdrawal becomes overwhelming. But there was no trial. Two months ago, an Iraqi judge freed all five of them. They are believed to be serving again in the Iraqi police force. It is very hard to explain why.

Brian Tilley was 47 when he died. All but two of his 22 years in the services were in the Special Boat Service. He served in the first Gulf War and Northern Ireland; in undercover operations including fighting drug traffickers in the Colombian jungle; he won the Queen's Gallantry Medal in 1996. He was a talented mountaineer – he scaled K2 and Everest – and was a member of the British Olympic bobsleigh team. After leaving the military, he trained the Saudi Arabian special
forces, before a stint as a bodyguard for the Beckhams in 2002 after the reported plot to kidnap their children. He then went to Iraq. In the cut-throat world of private security work, Brian stood out as a principled operator.

His clients loved him. They called him the "Roadie" – after years of a short, military-style cut, he had taken to wearing long hair. "Brian's hallmarks were integrity and loyalty, coupled with the ability to get the job done," says one of his soldier friends. "We all miss him – such a great man will stay alive in our minds."

Those friends are furious that this British hero has seemingly been forgotten, his murder ignored and his killers set free. Under normal circumstances, the world of private security and ex-special forces operations in Iraq is kept strictly away from the public gaze. But in this instance several of Brian's former SBS colleagues have spoken to me about their friend's murder.

On the morning after the Dawra shootings, tension had risen among Brian's friends because he had failed to show up, and there was no answer on his mobile phone. His friends rang around the US forces and asked if there were any reports of trouble in the Dawra district involving foreigners. The only response was from the US Major Crimes Unit (MCU), that an Iraqi family had been killed. But shortly after, the MCU said that among the dead was a man with a distinctive tattoo on his left forearm – an eagle with the name Brian below it.

This was Tilley. His friends went to the morgue to identify the body. What they found there was deeply disturbing. His corpse was peppered with gunshot wounds and he had clearly been beaten and tortured before he died. He'd been shot first in the foot and shoulder, and then repeatedly in the back, probably as he was trying to make a last desperate bid to escape by climbing over the rear wall of the house. There was one survivor of the massacre, the US military investigators
confirmed; a young Iraqi girl who had been taken to an Iraqi public hospital. Brian's friends were horrified. The sole survivor of a massacre by the Iraqi police of an Iraqi family and a British special forces veteran was being given no special protection whatsoever.

They raced over there, only to discover that their worst fears had almost been realised. Mariam was conscious and had seen her five attackers lurking around
the hospital ward. She told Brian's friend: "The nearest policeman was staring at me. And the four others were close behind him." Brian's friends immediately
employed guards and moved her into a safe house as soon as they could. Mariam went on to identify the five killers from police photographs and her identification was corroborated by the American officers who went through the process with her. Three months after the murders, Mariam also attended an ID parade and
picked out three of the guilty men.The suspects were named, photographed, arrested, charged and incarcerated pending trial. Mariam, as the sole eyewitness, was to be the mainstay of the prosecution's case.

But five months after the murder, things started to go rotten in the Iraqi justice system. The five men were called before an Iraqi judge in a preliminary
hearing. The judge determined that Mariam was an "unreliable witness", citing her "character and lifestyle" as reasons for throwing out the case. He released the policemen, dropped the charges and declared the case closed – before the five suspects had even had to enter a plea.

Once the case was dropped, Tilley's friends contacted me. They explained Mariam's "troubled" background: her abusive parents were divorced and she had been adopted by her best friend's parents –the al-Obaibis. But this young Iraqi girl – who has one bullet from the savage attack permanently lodged in her neck – had had the spirit and bravery to repeatedly identify Brian's killers. And in spite of the obvious dangers, she had agreed to stand witness at their trial. So why had the judge rejected the case? As I investigated, an intriguing scenario started to form. I discovered that a warrant has now been issued for the arrest of the Iraqi judge who threw out the case. He is wanted on corruption charges, although it is impossible to get any more details. And according to the authorities, the judge has now disappeared. Was the corruption linked to Tilley? Was the judge bribed to throw out the case? Tilley's friends believe that the former SBS man died in what amounts to a contract killing. Someone must have been watching the Dawra house and ordered the hit –though only Iman's family would have known that Brian was there that night.

Iman's family were almost certainly not involved, however, for they also perished in the attack. Since 2004 this case has given rise to a good deal of speculation.
Most of that has revolved around this question: who would have the money to pay off a high-ranking Iraqi judge, and why would they want to cover up the brutal murder of a well-liked British veteran?

Some people suggested to me that Brian was killed by Iraqis who do not like Westerners in their neighbourhood, let alone sleeping with their women. Which would surely be the likeliest reason, except for this – why would such a killing have been carried out by five well-trained, unmasked Iraqi police officers? At the heart of the speculation is the ever-deepening sensation that money washing into Iraq is the root of an evil like the killing of Brian Tilley. An ex-SAS sergeant-major now working in Baghdad told me: "Billions of dollars have been sent from America for reconstruction, but it's all gone into the pockets of government officials. "The Iraqi Government closed the department that was meant to investigate corruption."

Fraud is unquestionably rampant in Iraq.

Of the many billions of dollars allocated for reconstruction, an astonishing $8.8 billion (£4.5 billion) remains unaccounted for, according to a report by the former inspector-general of the now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Most of the money has disappeared into thin air.

In the first 14 months after the war, for example, some $12 billion in cash – weighing 363 tonnes – was flown from the Federal Reserve Bank in New York to Baghdad, and distributed from there across the country. More than one-tenth of this vast sum, $1.5 billion, was delivered to the Central Bank in Erbil, and deposited without any receipt being issued. The entire consignment disappeared. "Iraq was awash with cash – piles and piles of money," says Frank Willis, a former CPA official. "We played football with some of the bricks of $100 bills, before delivery. It was a wild-west atmosphere."

As of February this year, there were 78 investigations under way by a US Congressional team into fraud, waste and corruption. Thirty private security companies are also facing legal action in the US courts. "American and Iraqi law was suspended," says Alan Grayson, a US attorney. "In a free-fire zone you can shoot whoever you want. In a free-fraud zone you can steal whatever you want, and that's what they did."

Has this anything to do with Tilley? He had been working for private security firms in Iraq from April 2003 until his death. And one of Brian's clients just before he died was a telecoms company with a multimillion-dollar mobile contract in Iraq. Any company taking contracts from the CPA was seen as a target for
insurgent attacks and Brian had been working as a mid-tier security manager, putting out armed teams to protect workers erecting mobile-phone masts.

This company is under investigation. The US press has accused it of being linked to shadowy arms dealers, corruption and embezzlement scandals, and of rigging contracts in Iraq. For legal reasons we cannot name the company.

Did Tilley know anything of this? Was he about to speak up?

As yet, no other theories have provided a satisfactory explanation of how the state both killed the former soldier then released his killers, and then conveniently removed the judge who carried the whole process through.

I asked the Iraqi authorities to comment on the failure to bring Brian Tilley's killers to justice, but no response was forthcoming. I also got no response to my enquiries as to whether the five killers are still serving as Iraqi police officers. "For 22 years, Brian served his country with bravery and distinction,"
Eileen Tilley, Brian's sister, told me. "He was a man of absolute integrity, and all we're asking for is justice to be done. Three years after his murder we still cannot find any closure."

Much of Iraq is actively looking for "closure" of a different kind; every aspect of the brutal demise of Brian Tilley suggests both a nation and a family are as far from closure as can be imagined.
Fantastic article, really really shocking to hear about that much corruption.
Hopefully the situation is sorted out and the scumbags who did this are dealt with, if they were Americans they'd be hung, drawn and quartered by now. Murdering a family is cold blood and getting away with it, it simply shouldnt happen. And its got to be dealt with.
Absolutely horrible! A human life is worth nothing to these people, and what can we expect after years of the same treatment under an evil dictator and then the US invading and showing little restraint in the killings themselves? The biggest mistake is thinking that we can make these cultures adopt our own values.
OberstSteiner said:
........what can we expect after years of the same treatment under an evil dictator and then the US invading and showing little restraint in the killings themselves? The biggest mistake is thinking that we can make these cultures adopt our own values.

You kinda contradicted yourself there.  Kind of hard to make these cultures adopt our values if we were to demonstrate the same values they have, don't you think?