- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

LONDON — Hundreds of British troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be awarded millions of dollars in compensation after the government ruled that they are victims of crime, not war.

Forty injured servicemen are to receive payments of up to almost $1 million each in a series of test cases. This is expected to lead to claims from hundreds more of the estimated 1,000 troops injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

Payments will be made on a sliding scale of about $2,000 for a small facial scar to $1 million for the loss of a limb.

Sources said the ruling was reached after government attorneys raised fears that the Defense Ministry could be subject to a legal challenge by troops claiming that they were victims of crime because they were wounded in Iraq after the end of “at war” hostilities in May 2003.

All those injured fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, but who have remained in the army, could be entitled to lodge claims under the new plan. Those who are medically discharged will receive war pensions, as is already the case.

This plan is similar to that run by the Home Office, the British interior ministry, which makes payments to the victims of crimes such as muggings, rape, burglary and robbery. Troops will be informed officially of the new policy in the next few weeks and the first payments will be made in early spring.

Until now, the Defense Ministry has paid criminal compensation only for incidents in which troops were injured in “civilian situations” such as a fight in a nightclub while off duty.

Those injured in Northern Ireland during the sectarian violence were also eligible for such compensation because it was deemed that the terrorists attacking them were criminals and not enemy combatants in a conventional war.

The new ruling and expansion of compensation to the Iraq and Afghan conflicts means insurgents or terrorists carrying out surprise attacks and sabotage missions are regarded as criminals and not enemy troops. It is thought that the only circumstances in which troops injured in Iraq and Afghanistan would not be eligible for criminal compensation is when they were involved in prearranged, offensive operations directly targeting insurgents.

Most casualties in Iraq have received their wounds through car bombings, sniping and rocket attacks — circumstances not dissimilar to most attacks sustained in Ulster. Defense sources say the ruling reflects the changing nature of the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although both theaters of conflict are described frequently as war zones, in strict legal terms British troops are not at war.

The government decision for compensation is a response to demands from legislators, military chiefs and the public to provide the armed forces with better pay, accommodation and medical care.

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