LONDON – British authorities for the first time charged a soldier with murder in the death of a civilian in Iraq, indicting the man Tuesday in a civilian court after his commanding officer blocked a court martial.
Trooper Kevin Williams, who served in Iraq with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment (search), was charged in the death of Iraqi civilian Hassan Said (search), who was killed in Ad Dayr near Basra in southern Iraq on Aug. 3, 2003.
Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said in a written statement to Parliament that he had been asked by the Ministry of Defense to review the case "after charges were dismissed by the soldier's commanding officer. This meant the case could not be tried by court martial."
There was no immediate explanation from the Ministry of Defense for the commanding officer's decision.
Williams was freed on bail following a brief appearance at Bow Street Magistrates Court. His next court appearance was set for Sept. 28.
No British soldiers have been charged with deaths related to the Iraq war.
The British government has previously expressed regret for the deaths of Iraqi civilians. It is fighting a lawsuit by the families of six Iraqis allegedly slain by British troops. The families have gone to the High Court in London seeking to force an independent investigation.
The death of Hassan Said is not among those cases.
The government says it has paid more than $258,000 in compensation to settle 106 cases of death, injury and property damage in Iraq. Another 537 claims have been denied, while 149 remain under investigation.
Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) said Tuesday that most of the 8,000 British troops in Iraq "have done a fantastic job, an amazing job in Basra and elsewhere."
Blair told reporters at his monthly news conference that it was important British troops "adhere to high standards, and where they don't we take action."
"There are rules that our soldiers abide by, and incidentally the vast majority of them do the whole time, but anyone who commits a criminal offense will be charged, as we made clear," he added.
Last month, Pvt. Alexander Johnston, of the 1st Battalion of the King's Own Scottish Borderers, was charged with the unlawful wounding of a 13-year-old shot in Uzayr, south of Amarah, in September. No date has been set for his court martial.
Royal Fusiliers Lance Cpl. Darren Larkin; Cpl. Daniel Kenyon; Fusilier Gary Bartlam and Lance Cpl. Mark Cooley face a court martial on January 10 on allegations of abusing Iraqis.