Baghdad: An Iraqi court on Monday sentenced a British security guard to life in jail for killing a fellow Briton and an Australian in Baghdad, the first conviction of a Western contractor since the 2003 invasion.

Danny Fitzsimons, 30, could have received the death penalty for the August 2009 shooting in the Iraqi capital's heavily-fortified Green Zone.

His lawyer said that the life sentence equated to 20 years in Iraqi law, and added that he would appeal the verdict.

"The court finds that the evidence has determined that you committed the crime of killing and injuring," said the judge, who cannot be named.

"Taking into consideration the circumstances of the crime and the fact that you are young, now you are sentenced to life in prison."

Fitzsimons, who appeared at Karkh Criminal Court wearing a black pinstripe suit with a light-blue shirt and dark striped tie, did not visibly react either when the court-appointed interpreter translated the sentence, or when he was led away to a waiting police vehicle.

"This is a very good decision, and very good result - he has been saved from death," said Fitzsimons's Iraqi lawyer Tariq Harb, speaking outside the courtroom.

"But we have to send the appeal within days and we hope to get a further reduction," he added.

Fitzsimons, a former British soldier who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, had insisted throughout his trial that he had acted in self-defence during an alcohol-fuelled brawl.

He told the court in west Baghdad that fellow Briton Paul McGuigan and Australian Darren Hoare had burst into his room and pinned him down before pointing an M4 rifle at his face, prompting him to use his pistol to kill them. He also wounded an Iraqi guard before being detained.

"We are greatly relieved that Danny has not been sentenced to death," Fitzsimons's step-mother Liz said in a statement published by British anti-death penalty charity Reprieve.

"We now beseech the Iraqi authorities and the British government to show proper regard for Danny's fragile mental state and ensure his welfare and safety when he is transferred to a prison outside the Green Zone."

The wounded Iraqi's lawyer, Salam Abdul Karim, expressed disappointment that Fitzsimons did not receive the death penalty.

"I am disappointed, I had been hoping he would get the most extreme punishment," Abdulkarim told AFP outside the courthouse.

"He killed two people and tried to kill a third - this is an ugly crime.

"In Iraqi law, in my experience, he should have been sentenced to death. Maybe the court wanted to avoid problems with Britain, or maybe they wanted to give a sentence that was compatible with British law," he added,
alluding to Britain's opposition to the death penalty.

A meeting between Fitzsimons's family and British foreign ministry officials in London was also due to take place on Monday, to discuss the possibility of the defendant serving his sentence in Britain.

The verdict had originally been due earlier this month but was postponed after the judge sought clarification regarding a psychiatric report on Fitzsimons, which said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder but added that he was aware of his actions and their consequences.

Fitzsimons was the first Westerner to be tried in Iraq since the US-led invasion of 2003.

Foreign security contractors had not been subject to Iraqi law until the beginning of 2009, when a security agreement between the United States and Iraq lifted their immunity.