Baghdad: A British man was convicted by an Iraqi court on Monday over the shooting deaths of two contractors, making him the first Westerner convicted in an Iraqi court since the 2003 US invasion. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison by the court.

Danny Fitzsimons, 30, was found guilty in the 2009 fatal shootings of a British and Australian contractor who worked with him and with attempting to kill an Iraqi guard.

Fitzsimons, who had been facing the death penalty, told a news agency as he was being led from the courtroom by Iraqi guards that he was happy with the sentence. But when asked whether he thought the trial was fair, he said: "No."

The former security contractor from Rochdale, England, admitted to shooting the men but claimed it was self-defense. The men had been out drinking and the other two tried to kill him during an altercation, Fitzsimons said during previous testimony. He also claimed to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In handing down the verdict, the head judge of the three-judge panel said Fitzsimons' mental condition was taken into consideration when deciding on the sentence.

Fitzsimons was accompanied by his Iraqi lawyer, Tariq Harb; his family and British lawyer, who attended a court session last week.

"This is a very good sentence. I saved him from the gallows," Harb told reporters afterward. Fitzsimons now has 30 days to appeal, which Harb said he would do.

Last week, Fitzsimons' British lawyer, John Tripple, said the family and British authorities were trying to reach an agreement with the Iraqi government to have Fitzsimons transferred to a British prison if he is not given the death penalty.

Harb said that could be possible since the "relations between the two countries are strong now and diplomacy can bear remarkable influence."

A US-Iraqi security pact that took effect January 1, 2009, lifted immunity for foreign contractors, an important development for Iraqis who viewed the security contractors operating in Iraq as reckless and acting with impunity.

(Agencies)