Jelly-bellied flag-flappers and self-appointed Wilfred Owens

January 18, 2014

Over at ‘Blood and Treasure’, Jamie Kenny declares himself disgusted by the attempts by the likes of Michael Gove to use the 1914 commemorations as an excuse for idiotic smear campaigns and jingoistic rhetoric. I agree, very strongly.

Gove’s rhetoric is based, in part, on a not-even-quarter-digested reading of recent scholarship on the war. And it’s based, in part, on Gove’s apparent need to establish himself as the resident intellectual, and possible leadership candidate, of the Tory Right. Yes, Mr Gove, why not use the death of millions of people as a career opportunity? Borrowing a splendid phrase from one of Kipling’s ‘Stalky’ stories, Jamie denounces Gove and other jingoists as ‘jelly-bellied flag-flappers’.

But then, alas, Jamie links to an article by Solomon Hughes, which is not merely stupid but genuinely contemptible. It has an awful lot in common with Gove’s anonymous smear campaign about the commemoration plans.

Hughes informs us: ‘The only way to properly reflect the feelings of those who lived through the first world war is to ignore Gove and sign up to the No Glory campaign at http://www.noglory.org.’;

Click on the link, and one finds that ‘noglory.org’ wants us to sign a petition already signed by a collection of luvvies and fashionistas (the late Roger Lloyd Pack, Simon Callow, Vivienne Westwood ad hoc genus) leavened by one or two genuine wankers (Tony Benn, Billy ‘Not Even Unintentionally Funny Anymore’ Bragg). And it thinks we must read a bunch of articles on the war by such towering historians as Mark Steel.

So, Solomon thinks that we don’t properly respect the sufferings of those who fought in the Great War unless we do as he bids and sign up to the dozy and ignorant rhetoric peddled by the normal collection of ‘politically aware’ minor celebrities, stand-up comics and op-ed writers?

Since I have no intention of signing the ‘No Glory’ petition, I guess that I am refusing to ‘properly reflect’ on, say, my paternal grandfather, who fought on the Western Front and in Italy and who lived the rest of his life, in my father’s sad memory, as a broken man.

Thanks for the lecture, Solomon, but if you imagine you have even the slightest authority to tell me that there is only one way to ‘properly reflect’ the tragedy of the Great War, and that that way involves signing some dumb online petition got up by a bunch of geniuses who don’t seem to have read a single serious book on the war between them, then you know what you can do to yourself.

Both the grotesque, and borderline racist, Gove briefings, and the Solomon Hughes/Billy Bragg/Tony Benn/other-assorted-cretins campaign are doing the same thing. To borrow Dan Davies’s brilliant satire of some of the more exploitative reactions to 9/11, all these fools are saying is ‘Why the death of several million people in the Great War means we must support my politics’. Jelly-bellied flag-flappers are indeed revolting specimens, but then so are self-appointed Wilfred Owens.

I’ll be commemorating the Great War this year as I always do in November, by reading about it, and thinking about what I’ve learned from my reading, and hoping that I might possibly act more honestly and intelligently as a result.

But if this doesn’t appeal to anyone, you can go and sign a petition endorsed by Tony Benn and Billy Bragg. It’s the only way to properly reflect on the carnage, I hear.

No war with Iran- yet

January 6, 2012

Here’s a prediction. There will be no war between the US and Iran this spring despite the Iranian threat to close the Straits of Hormuz. The Iranians are of course saying they might do this either to a) all shipping or b) just a US aircraft carrier making the return trip to Bahrain. But they won’t.

Closing the Straits, which (outside Iran’s coastal strip) are international waters, would be a clear justification for using force under international law. The list of people who would  be using force in that eventuality would obviously start, although maybe not end, with the Americans. The US Navy and Air Force would, sooner or later, assemble sufficient forces to a) smash the Iranian navy and the naval bits of the Revolutionary Guards; b) any site associated with the Iranian nuclear effort; c) at least some of Iran’s oil infrastructure (rigs, refineries, pipelines etc).

The Iranian power structure could probably bear a)- no point having armed forces full of potential martyrs if you’re not prepared to risk them now and then. It might or might not be sanguine about b)- they seem to have gone to very great lengths to make it difficult to damage the key nuclear installations, and they may calculate that any bombing and cruise missile campaign might cause only temporary damage. But I really don’t think they will want to risk c)- damage to their oil infrastructure.

Iran is unable to export any worthwhile portion of its massive gas reserves because it would have to liquefy the gas to export a lot of it, and the only firms which make the (complicated and expensive) machinery needed to liquefy natural gas are all American, bar one. A German firm is trying to enter the market, so it really, really doesn’t want to show up on any State Department sanctions lists.

Right now, about the only way the Iranian government can earn foreign currency is to ship oil overseas. The current sanctions regime is not tight enough to completely prevent Iranian oil exports. The UK-France-Germany troika are pushing through tightened EU sanctions which should reduce the amount of oil the Iranians can sell to the Europeans, but even then they will still be able to sell some- more than the US (and the UK/France/Germany) would like.

That’s a big problem for Washington: sanctions on the Iranian oil industry aren’t as tight as it wants. But this problem would be greatly reduced if one could lob a few dozen cruise missiles at certain Iranian harbours and oil rigs. Which one could, if one’s Iranian opponent were foolish enough to give one a legally justifiable casus belli.

I don’t think that Obama would do anything crazy like blowing up all the Iranian oil storage tanks, but if the Iranians started a shooting war (which is what they would be doing by blocking the Straits) then I think the White House would be quite happy to order attacks on key oil installations. Bang go a few refineries, and up in smoke goes Iran’s ability to earn foreign currency.

Attacks on refineries would quite possibly be illegal as a response to an Iranian blockade of the Straits, but we’ve seen that Obama isn’t terribly worried about, say, sending helicopters full of armed troops across the airspace of a foreign country. I rather doubt he’ll lose too much sleep about getting tough if the Iranians pick a fight with him.

Bottom line: who has most to lose if a shooting war starts? I think it’s Iran- so the Iranian leaders won’t start such a war now, if they are rational. Are they rational? They are horrifically unpleasant people, certainly, and quite bonkers when it comes to ‘the truth about the Holocaust’, say, or the interpretation of Sharia law. But up to now they’ve shown themselves to be pretty cool players of power politics in a rough region, so I repeat that I don’t think they will block the Straits this spring.

One final question is why, in that case, the Iranians are even threatening to do so. I’m really not an Iran expert, so I’m inclined to believe the reason that I’ve seen advanced in the papers- there will be parliamentary elections in 2 March and the government needs to gin up a row with the Americans, and preferably also the Israelis, to have at least a little popular support.

Back from Afghanistan

October 23, 2008

I returned to the UK last week, after a few months with the Army in Afghanistan, in Helmand Province. Without getting official permission, I can’t and won’t go into detail about my time there, not that I have any great secrets to reveal.

Mainly I was bored; quite often I was amused, or annoyed; a very few times I was scared. I saw extraordinary stoicism from British and Afghan casualties. I greatly admire the soldiers I served with- both my fellow reservists and the regulars. I am particularly grateful to several of them, for their competence in difficult situations, or for their generosity in teaching me essential skills.

Before them, there were the NCOs at Chilwell, who clearly gave a damn about the soldiers they were sending off; the girls at the opticians and the dentists, at least half of them wearing the hijab, who helped me get ready and wished me luck. And I remember the guards at Nottingham station, who asked me where I was off to, and when I told them, shook my hand and told me to stay safe.

Chris Bryant, MP- give the man a tenner

April 3, 2008

There are Iraqi former Employees who owe a considerable debt to Chris Bryant, Labour MP for the Rhondda and PPS to Harriet Harman. He has spoken for their cause in public, at the House of Commons on October 9th; he has, as I well know, pressed Ministers in private, and in detail, and has worked hard and effectively on the Employees’ behalf.

Other MPs have also done a lot in this cause: I will write at length some time about my MP Lynne Featherstone, who reacted brilliantly when a scruffy constituent wandered into her surgery with a long list of demands. David Lidington, the Tory frontbench spokesman for Foreign Affairs, has also been a really outstanding public servant. And there have been several other MPs and Peers who have deeply impressed me, although the detailed thanks should probably wait until at least one employee has actually been flown out of Iraq. The bad MPs may well be lousy, but the good MPs are very good indeed.

I have to say that Chris deserves special praise for one reason: he associated himself with some very vocal critics of Government policy although he himself was a frontbencher. An awful lot of frontbenchers, senior and junior, kept their heads well down on this issue. I know: I asked them to help. I stress that Chris himself is the model of a loyal Labour man. But he worked hard to get the policy changed because he thought that there was a moral case to do so.

And now Chris is running in the London Marathon, the mad fool, to raise money for research into prostate cancer. As Chris points out, this condition kills rather a lot of people in a very painful way, but not enough men get themselves tested for it, and not enough research is conducted into its causes.

You can sponsor him here. And I think you should. If I may ruthlessly deploy a cliche, he put his money where his mouth was to support the Iraqi employees, and continues to do so. I was hoping to wittily turn the cliche around and say that we should put money where his feet are, or something, but it’s late and I’m tired. It’s a good cause and he’s a good guy, so give him some cash.

Iraqi Employees: Fine words, shabby deeds

February 25, 2008

Do you like reading fine words? Here is the Prime Minister on the subject of Iraqi ex-employees of the British Government, speaking in the House of Commons on October 9th, 2007: ‘I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of our civilian and locally employed staff in Iraq, many of whom have worked in extremely difficult circumstances, exposing themselves and their families to danger. I am pleased therefore to announce today a new policy which more fully recognises the contribution made by our local Iraqi staff, who work for our armed forces and civilian missions in what we know are uniquely difficult circumstances.’

Fine words. What about deeds?

A small number of Iraqis – fewer than a dozen, according to people close to the operation who are in contact with me- were removed from Iraq in the early autumn of 2007. Since the Prime Minister’s admirable declaration of October, how many Iraqi ex-employees have been evacuated from Iraq? According to all the Iraqis that I am in contact with: none.

Here are the words of an Iraqi employee in Iraq, emailing me, today: ‘I am still in Iraq…I hear nothing from your Governmet yet!’

Here is what this man was told on February 3 by a conscientious British Civil Servant, out in Iraq to arrange the evacuation of Iraqi ex-employees and clearly shocked by the lack of progress: ‘I’m sorry that everything is taking so long to complete. Please note that we are waiting to hear what happens next from London and I can assure you all that I will personally contact you as soon as I receive instructions from London to confirm the next arrangements.’

Here is why he is hiding: ‘They (the militia) keep asking my relatives and my family’s neighbors about me and they keep moving in my family’s street and keep their eyes on our home… they told them: anyone know anything about A__ he should tell us immediately and also they said: we will never give up until we catch A__ .

And here is what the Right Honourable Bob Ainsworth, Minister of State for Defence, wrote to David Lidington, MP, about this same man on 16th January: ‘Mr Hardie expresses concern over the handling of a claim for assistance by a former employee of British Forces, Mr A_ … Mr A_ is eligible for the assistance scheme, and we have passed his details on to the Border and Immigration Agency who will take forward his request for resettlement in the UK via the Gateway programme. Assuming that there are no problems with Mr A__’s immigration checks he should be able to leave Iraq by the end of January…’ I added the emphasis, and I can also say that I have it in writing from the MoD that there were no problems with Mr A__’s immigration checks.

The Border and Immigration Agency is the Home Office Agency handling the last phase of the operation to resettle Iraqi ex-employees. And it is the BIA, according to every source of information that I have, that is delaying the evacuation of the Iraqis.

It is also supposed to be the Home Office that is co-ordinating the provision of housing to those Iraqis who do get resettled in the UK. In the House of Lords last month there was a debate on Iraq at the request of Lord Fowler, whom I had briefed on Iraqi ex-employees. Lord Chidgey, later backed by the Earl of Sandwich, asked a very pertinent question of the Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch Brown, and he did not get a good answer: ‘…on the resettlement of Iraqis at risk under the Gateway Protection Programme, the Minister will be aware that its success is dependent on a sufficient number of local authorities participating. There is considerable concern that this is not the case at present. Will he advise what steps the Government are taking to ensure that local authorities will come forward?’

There are many operational and logistical difficulties in the way of an operation: I know that. But the Government has known about these people for at least six months, and has been publicly committed to helping them for over four months. That is enough time to plan for the difficulties- far more time than you usually get in a war.

The Home Office is dawdling while people are threatened with death.This is either incompetence in the face of a crisis, or it is a deliberate policy of putting bureaucratic obstacles in the face of fugitives. Neither is acceptable.

And beyond that, the policy itself is being used to keep out Iraqis who can prove that they worked for British forces, and who can prove that their lives are at risk as a result. One man, Hamed, worked for British forces on Shaibah Logistics Base for over two years, as the Government accepts. He was threatened by the militias, and gunmen went to his house, so he moved his family to Syria and slept on the base’s floor.  He continued to work for the British. Hamed finally was given ‘notice to quit’ Shaibah when the base closed, and fled to Syria, where he cannot legally work and where he and his family are safe (so far) but hungry. The British Government knows who Hamed is. A British Army NCO who knew him has confirmed every detail of his story to me, saying that he knew that Hamed had reported the threats against him to the military authorities. The Government has written to Hamed to reject any claim for help, since he was ‘not directly employed’ by the military.

Another man, Waleed, was directly employed by the military, in 2005 and 2006.  He worked as an interpreter for one Army unit for its six month tour, during which time he was fired upon and chased by militiamen as he made his way to the base; he started work for a second unit, after which he received a threat on his mobile phone detailing where he lived, what he did, and what would happen to him if he ‘collaborated’ any more. He was also hunted in Iraq, and has also fled to Syria. A British Government letter, which I have seen, informed him that he would not be assisted since he had not worked for the twelve-month period specified by the Government’s policy- which, alas, the militias do not seem to respect.

We got the Government to admit to its moral responsibilities. Now we have to get them to match their deeds to their words.

Please write a letter to your MP. His or her address is The House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA. If you don’t know who your constituency MP is, go here and type your postcode in. When you’ve sent a letter, follow it up with an email: his or her address will normally be SURNAMEINITIAL@parliament.uk – for example BROWNG@parliament.uk

Two or three days after you have written the letter, call the Parliamentary switchboard on 0207 219 3000 and ask for your MP’s office. Repeat your concerns to the secretary or research assistant you speak to (and be nice: most of these people work damn hard for little reward), check that your letter has been received, and politely request that the MP ask questions of Ministers and reply to you. In your email, your letter, and your phone calls, you must be courteous: insulting an MP or a research assistant will discredit this cause. Talking points for the letter are below:

  • The Prime Minister announced a review of British policy towards its Iraqi ex-employees, due to the threats of murder they faced, on August 8th 2007, and he announced a change in that policy on October 9th, 2007. The Foreign Secretary made a more detailed policy statement on October 30th, 2007.
  • Nearly four months later no Iraqis who have applied under the scheme have been evacuated from Iraq.
  • Not one Iraqi ex-employee living as an illegal immigrant in Syria or Jordan has been resettled under the scheme.
  • A debate in the House of Lords on DATE contained several references to resettlement being blocked by the failure of the Home Office to provide housing in the UK. The Home Office has had between four and six months to plan for this eventuality: it is inexcusable that they have not done so.
  • Would the MP please put down written Questions to the Home Secretary asking why the Home Office is unable to live up to the Prime Minister’s publicy expressed commitment to rehouse Iraqi ex-employees whose lives are at risk for having worked for British forces?
  • Would the MP please write in private to the Home Secretary, and to the Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne MP, asking what provision their department has made to implement a policy decided in early October, and further asking them if they are aware that lives are at risk and that rapid action needs to be taken?
  • Would the MP also please write to the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary asking how many Iraqis who are ex-Employees of their departments have been resettled, and asking why Iraqis who are at risk for having worked for British forces are being abandoned for having ‘worked for less than 12 months’?
  • Can the MP please forward these letters to the Prime Minister, who personally approved the change in policy.
  • And finally, can the MP please reply to you with details of any Government response.
  • If you want: you can give your MP my name and email address (danhardie.blog@gmail.com ) and tell them that I am in contact with a number of Iraqi ex-employees inside and outside Iraq, none of whom have received help from the Government, and that I would be happy to brief them with confidential details of these cases, either by telephone, email or in person at their Parliamentary offices. They should feel free to contact me.
  • When you get a reply to your letter, email me (again, at danhardie.blog@gmail.com ) -it’s very important that I know which MPs are sympathetic and what the Government is telling them. And email me if you have anything else that needs saying. Thank you.

Red tape and murder

December 12, 2007

David Miliband is the Minister responsible for Government policy towards its Iraqi ex-employees, including those in fear of their lives. In a recent webchat on the Number 10 website, Mr Miliband was asked the following question by Justin McKeating: ‘I would like to ask the Foreign Secretary why the assistance being offered to locally employed staff in Iraq, who are being threatened with reprisals – including torture and death – from local militias, is being rationed according to length of service. Isn’t it perfectly possible for an Iraqi employee who has only been employed for five months to face the same dangers as a colleague who has been employed for twelve months or longer?’

 To which he replied ‘ The scheme is open to all existing staff whatever their length of service.  For previous staff who no longer work for us, there is a 12 month criteria.  I think this gets the balance right.  The fortitude of civilian staff alongside military forces has been amazing on the part both of British staff and locally employed staff.  The new scheme tries to recognise this.’

Just how good a job of recognising it is noted in The Times today .

There are a great many methods which our Government, acting in our name, is using to keep out Iraqi ex-employees at risk of being murdered for having trusted this country. Officials have rejected 125 out of 200 applications for help so far, and one of the grounds that they are citing is absenteeism. One of the skivers, an ex-interpreter named Safa, says that he served UK Forces for two and a half years and was unable to come to work when militiamen began observing the British bases, targeting those working for  the Army. Of course applications cannot be accepted simply at face value: but Safa has no right of appeal. His case could quite easily be verified by ringing round the Army officers with whom he says he served, and checking his story. There is no indication that the Government has done this, and now his case is in the bin.

I can tell you about another of the bureaucratic obstacles being put in the way of at-risk former Employees. I’ve been forwarded a copy of the standard reply sent to all ex-employees asking for help. I’ll reproduce it in full later. It says,  among other things, that ex-Employees applying for asylum may have to wait until 2009. This is disgraceful: people are being hunted in Basra now.

And the other bureaucratic obstacles are the ones we warned about when David Miliband made the October 9th Statement: ex-employees must prove that they worked 12 months continuously after the 1st January 2005, excluding those who were identified as murder targets during the course of the Sadrist uprising in 2004 or who worked for the duration of a Battalion’s six-month tour and became known as ‘collaborators’ in that time.

This comes down to one simple principle: the Iraqis whom our Government should help first are those who are at risk of being murdered for having worked for the British. It is still not too late for the Government to implement this principle. It is administratively possible. It is morally imperative.

And from the Government’s viewpoint, it is now politically advisable: a continued policy of literally niggling people to death, putting bureaucratic obstacles in the way of men and women in fear of their lives for having worked for British troops, will attract nothing but contempt, from the press and the public.

Once more, then: write to your MP. His or her address is The House of Commons, Westminster, London. SW1A 0AA.  You can look your MP up here .

Make the points above, courteously: an insulted MP will do nothing for threatened Iraqis. Ask your MP if he or she will sign Early Day Motion 401, which raises these concerns, and if he or she will write to David Miliband asking for an explanation. You can also give them my email address (danhardie.blog@gmail.com ) and tell them that I am in touch with a number of Iraqis in Basra and Damascus, and will be happy to come to Westminster to give them a concise briefing, as I already have for a number of MPs.

Only pressure got this Government to announce a partial, grudging change of policy. Only pressure will stop this Government from finding bureaucratic excuses to abandon its moral obligations and leave its former Employees to the death squads.

Letting them die

November 25, 2007

I’ve had emails from three people who claim to be – and who almost certainly are- Iraqi former employees of the British Government. All three say that they and their former colleagues are still at risk of death for their ‘collaboration’.

 We’ll call the first man Employee One. He worked for the British for three years: ‘I started in the beginning of the war with Commandos (in 30 of March 2003) then continued with 23 Pioneer Regt, and in 08 / 07 / 2003 I have joined the Labour Support Unit (LSU)’. His British friends knew him as Chris.

The British Government has announced that he can apply for help if he can transport himself to the British base outside Basra, or to the Embassies in Syria or Jordan. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that there might be problems with this.

I can email and telephone this man: so can any Foreign Office official. It should not be impossible to verify his story and then send him the funds he needs to get to a less unsafe Arab country. But that is not happening.  

Here’s an email exchange we had the other day. My questions are in italics.

1) Are you still in Iraq? ‘Yes, I’m still hidden in somewhere in the hell of Basra.’  

2) Is there any reason you cannot travel to the British Army base at Basra Airbase to ask for asylum? ‘Of course, we cannot travel to BIA (Basra International Airbase) due to the militia keep watched all the ways to BIA and they got their own fake check points there although, we claimed for asylum through the internet (we sent our application to the claim office at BIA) . But we afraid that the British are going to take a long time to process our claims also we are very worried if they will offer just some money instead of asylum, please sir inform all the British people that we looking for asylum and just the asylum will save our lives, also we can’t travel to Syria anymore to claim for asylum there as the Syrian government issued new conditions for Iraqis who want to travel to their country.’ 

 3) Can you tell me how and when the militias threatened you?‘In 2006 I have threatened by militia that hated me because I work and help coalition forces in Iraq, I told my bosses about that but they said we can’t do anything for you because we have nothing to do with civilian and we don’t have any army rules or orders to help you, then I continued my daily work with British army, few days later the militia attacked my house trying to catch me but I was at the work at that time, they beaten my family and told them: we want your son or we will kill all of you!!!! ‘Since that day I decided to leave my job and change my home place but until this moment the militia trying to find and kill me, I’m always changing my place trying to hidden from them, they know that I left my job but they don’t care, they just want to kill me they called me collaborator and traitor and they asked everybody know me about my place, they told them: anyone know anything about  (name) he should tell us immediately and also they said: we will never give up until we catch (name). They work for ministry of interior so they controlled most of government departments and they work under that cover.’  

4) Do you have any family members who are also threatened by militias or who depend on you? If so, how many of them are there and how old are they?  ‘Of course, my family depends on me especially in the finance side as I’m the older son between seven sons and daughters they got, on other hand my parents cannot working as they are very old.’ 

Employee Two is in Syria, and is applying for aid from the British Embassy in Damascus. He can prove that he has worked for the British for over 12 months, after the magic date of 1st January 2005.

But he still isn’t safe.  He is staying illegally in Syria, having considerably over-run the 15-day visa on which he entered the country. He’s been obliged to get forms for asylum or resettlement aid from the Syrian Government security men who guard the British Embassy.

He tells me ‘If I see any syrian officer i really get fear , becuase of my expired visa.’ The British Government, which asked us to accept that it was invading Iraq in part because of its horror at the brutality of the Ba’athist dictatorship, is now perfectly happy to leave its own former employees to the mercies of Syrian Ba’athists.  

Colleagues of this man are also hiding in Damascus and are even worse off than he is, because they don’t meet the perverse and arbitrary time stipulations.  He writes: ‘I know 4 former interpreters worked less than a year (for the British: DH), but they went to the embassy and they filled the paper with out telling the guards we had worked for less than a year. The syrian guards have got instructions from the embassy (British Embassy in Damascus: DH), that (they) do not give that form to any interpreter who worked for British less than a year or any former interpreter who worked in 2003 and fled to syria before 2005.’

Employee Three sent me copies of his Army ID card and photos of him with smiling Scottish soldiers. He worked for the Army in 2003, who then recommended that he work for Erinys- a private security firm which the British Government hired to form an Oil Protection Force. Yes, a mercenary firm: a mercenary firm hired by our Government and paid for with our money. Both when working for the Army and when working for the British Government’s proxies, he was identified as a target by the militias.

The British Government made him a death squad target. That same British Government will not be giving him any kind of assistance; not even a small cash handout to help him live elsewhere in the Middle East. It has announced that it will not help any Iraqi whose direct employment ended before the 1st January 2005: that Johnson Beharry was awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of courage in May and June 2004, when the Mahdi Army attacked the British and were fought off with many hundreds of casualties.

You’ve heard this before, but it’s now more important than ever. The last lot of letters and emails got the Government to announce a change in policy: an inadequate change,badly implemented.  The next lot of letters and emails will force the Government to announce another change in policy, one that will be properly implemented and will not be based on leaving people to die.  

Your MP’s address is The House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA. His or her email address is probably SURNAMEINITIAL@parliament.uk (eg BROWNG@parliament.uk ).  Please use the talking points below to send an email and a print letter to your MP, and chase them for an answer. And be courteous: an insulted MP will not raise this matter with Ministers, and that will lead to more avoidable deaths. 

When you get an answer, email me at danhardie.blog@gmail.com and let me know what they said.   I agree that it seems egocentric for me to ask you to put your MP in touch with me: but what alternatives do we have?

I am in direct contact with Iraqi employees pleading with me to do something to help them. I cannot help them. Members of Parliament- including David Miliband- need to read what these Iraqis are saying. 

 Talking points:

·         On October 9th David Miliband announced that the British Government would assist former employees in Iraq, so long as they had worked for it after 1st January 2005 and for 12 months or more. That abandons several hundred Iraqis who have been targetd for murder because they worked for the British before that date- and in 2004 fighting between the Mahdi Army and the British was at its peak- or because they worked for less than that period, often leaving their jobs at the end of a British battalion’s six-month tour. The British Government must help Iraqi employees on the basis of the risk they face, not according to an arbitrary time stipulation. This only affects a few hundred Iraqis, whom we are well able to shelter, and for whom we have a direct moral responsibility. 

 ·         Even those Iraqi employees who qualify for assistance are not being properly assisted. Iraqis in Basra are not able to apply via the British Army in Basra Interational Airbase, since it is ringed with militia checkpoints. Iraqi ex-employees in Damascus are being screened by Syrian policemen guarding the British Embassy and delayed by lengthy bureaucratic procedures when they apply for asylum, although many of them are illegally overstaying their Syrian visas and face deportation back to Iraq.   

·         A blogger called Dan Hardie is directly in touch with a number of Iraqi employees via email and phone. He is willilng to brief MPs- as concisely as possible- either over the phone or via email. He can be reached at danhardie.blog@gmail.com  

Footnote re authenticity: The ISPs confirm that one email was definitely sent from Damascus, the others from satellite networks serving the Middle East including Iraq. I have spoken to two of them on the phone, using Iraqi telephone numbers. (Many thanks to Alex Harrowell and Surreptitious Evil for their work on this.) A Times journalist in the region tells me that ‘Employee One’ and ‘Employee Two’  are certainly authentic: she has been in contact with them herself. The other has sent me scanned copies of his British Army IDs, and photographs of him with smiling soldiers, as well as a lengthy reference from Erinys.  He either is who he says he is, or has stolen the documents of the man he is claiming to be: and given that he names soldiers who know him, and will have to turn up in person and be photographed to claim asylum at a British Embassy, he would have no chance of perpetrating a successful fraud.  

Footnote re the wider refugee crisis: Conceivably the Sunni-Shi’ite violence in the American-occupied areas of Iraq is diminishing:  this  story,  quoting Iraqi Governmentsources, argues that it is, though the Iraqi Government has a vested interest in claiming an improvement. In response, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees argues that there has been no improvement . But even if the UNHCR is wrong, the Iraqi Government is right and things have got better for refugees from Baghdad and neighbouring areas that is, sadly, irrelevant to Britain’s employees in the South of the country. What’s still the case is that Basra is now effectively under the control of various Shi’ite groups who have varying amounts of loathing for the British and their Iraqi employees, and that one of the most powerful is the Mahdi Army, who fought several outright battles against British troops and have a long track record of killing ‘Locally Employed Civilians’.

Iraqi employees- how to apply for Asylum

November 2, 2007

A number of Iraqi employees have contacted me recently asking about the British Government’s scheme to resettle them in Britain or the Middle East.

If you are an Iraqi employee and need this information, you should go here.

If you are having any problems applying for this scheme, or if you are an Iraqi employee who has worked for less than 12 months for the British, please email me at danhardie.blog@gmail.com and I will do all I can to help you.

Iraqi Employees: the next letter

October 11, 2007

Our Government is still proposing to abandon people to the death squads for having worked for the troops it sent, in our name, to Iraq.  

The ‘twelve months’ stipulation is utterly unacceptable.  In the Miliband statement, the Government  committed itself to doing nothing to shelter people at risk from death squads for having worked for British soldiers or diplomats, unless they can prove that they have worked for the British for a continuous period of twelve months.

There are a lot of local employees who fled their jobs before 12 months precisely because they had been targeted, or who did a 6-month tour for one British battalion and were then told to go and work for the Americans, or who did 12 months or more with interruptions, or who weren’t given proper documentation by the Army. Mark Brockway (former Sergeant-Major, TA Royal Engineers) said so, several times, at the meeting on October 9th; so did Andrew Alderson (Major, Yeomanry); so do the employees, and serving soldiers, who are in touch with them, or with me, by email. 

This is indescribably shabby. It has to be changed.

The first letters to MPs worked. Telephoning the offices of  MPs, I was frequently told ‘They’ve written to the Home Office about it- they got all these letters from constituents.’ So without the letters that you wrote, we wouldn’t have had Brown’s partial climbdown, which may at least save the lives of those hundreds of Iraqis who can prove that they worked for twelve months for us.  Write another letter- or write your first- and we can save some more lives.

As before, bullet points for a letter are below. So is a form letter, but don’t send it unchanged: adapt it a lot. It’s just there to help people over writer’s block. Again, be courteous when writing to your MP and put your full address including the postcode, to indicate that you are a constituent. If you don’t know who your MP is, you can find out here. You should address letters to: (MP’s Name), The House of Commons, Westminster, London. SW1A 0AA. When you get a reply, let me know (in comments, or to danhardie.blog@gmail.com ) so that we can see which MPs we can work with, and which need persuading.

Bullet points:

  • David Miliband’s Statement on ‘Iraq: Locally Recruited Civilians’ of 9th October stated that Britain will help to resettle- in the wider Middle East, or in the United Kingdom- Iraqis who can prove that they have worked for this country’s soldiers or diplomats for a continuous period of twelve months.
  • Hundreds of Iraqis have been targeted for assassination for having worked for this country. Some have worked for a period of twelve months exclusively for the British and can prove this. Some have not but have been pinpointed for murder anyway. We have a responsibility to save these people from being murdered for the ‘crime’ of working for the British.
  • There are a lot of local employees who fled their jobs before 12 months precisely because they had been targeted, or who did a 6-month tour for one British battalion and were then told to go and work for the Americans, or who did 12 months or more with interruptions, or who the Army didn’t give proper documentation too.
  • Iraqi staff members must be given shelter not because of their provable length of service but according to whether they have been identified for murder by local death squads. This can be investigated on the spot by Army officers and referred rapidly to London: the process needs to start now.
  • Mr Miliband’s statement did not mention the families of Iraqi employees. As Iraqi militias also murder the families of their ‘enemies’, we must resettle our employees’ families as well. Mark Brockway, an ex-soldier who hired many Iraqis, estimates that we are talking about a maximum of 700 Iraqis to resettle: this country admits 190,000 immigrants net every year.
  • Iraqis have already been targeted for murder for having worked for this country. We will be shamed if we allow more to be killed for the same reason. Our soldiers, who are angry at this betrayal, and our diplomats, will be placed at risk if they gain a reputation for abandoning their local helpers.

Form letter:

(MP’s Name)

The House Of Commons

Westminster

London. SW1A 0AA.

                                                                                                   Your full name and address.

Dear (MP’s Name)

As you will have read in the Times, Iraqis who have worked for British soldiers or diplomats are being targeted for murder by local militia. An unknown number have already been killed and more have been forced into hiding.

On October 9th, David Miliband’s statement on ‘Locally Recruited Civilians’ in Iraq said that Britain would offer assistance with resettlement for Iraqis who had worked with British forces, but only if they could prove that they had worked for us for 12 months or more. This is effectively leaving hundreds of Iraqis, who have risked their lives for this country’s forces, to the mercy of the death squads. 

Mark Brockway, a former soldier who employed many Iraqis, told Channel Four News on 9th October that local staff often worked for six months for British units, during which time they were frequently identified as ‘enemies’ by the local militias. I believe that the Government has a direct responsibility for the safety of these people.

I feel that it is morally unacceptable that this country is following such a policy. I also believe it will endanger our soldiers and diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan. Can I please ask you to write to the Foreign Office, and also to the Home Office which has charge of asylum policy, to ask why the Government is prepared to ignore the plight of hundreds of people who were placed at risk serving this country’s soldiers.

Yours sincerely

David Miliband’s statement on Iraqi Employees

October 9, 2007

 Below is David Miliband’s statement, released on Tuesday October 9th, setting out Government policy on ‘Locally Recruited Civilians’ in Iraq.  Since this post is currently number four on Google for ‘David Miliband Iraq’, let’s make something plain: Mr Miliband’s statement is disgracefully inadequate.

It’s clearly a product of   horse-trading between five different Ministries (FCO, Home Office, MoD, DfID and the Treasury) all unwilling to spend any money on a bunch of Arabs and mostly unaware or unconcerned that a lack of speedy Government action will kill more Iraqi employees (and put British soldiers at further risk).  

In ascending order of shabbiness, some of the problems with this document are:

i)                   There is no mention of resettlement assistance for employees’ families, although we know that Iraqi militias kill the families of their ‘enemies: I think that the Government may attempt to abandon family members. Ladies and gentlemen of the FCO, do you really think you won’t get awful media coverage if you tell Ali, who worked with our forces, that he can come to the UK away from the death squads, but his wife and daughter must stay in Basra? We both know what the front page of the Times will be. 

ii) The resettlement packages- 6 months’ pay to go away from Iraq and set up somewhere else in the Middle East- are grotesquely mean. And more importantly, the staff must not be improperly pressured to go to a Middle Eastern country if they are not going to be able to live safely there. If they have family or other contacts in a country without a jihadist sub-culture, they may well choose resettlement within the Arab world, though it will have to be properly funded. But force people to stay in Syria and Jordan if they have reason to believe they are being hunted there, and you will have- again- blood on your hands, and you will have- again- furious media coverage.

 iii)  Worst of all is the stipulation that we will only be giving assistance- not just resettlement in the UK, but the pitifully small grants to go elsewhere in the Middle East- to those who can prove that they have worked for UK forces for 12 months continuously. This is the most disgraceful piece of bureaucratic blindness. Do you not understand that Iraq is a war zone? Have you not spoken to the soldiers and heard that some people worked over 12 months for us but were not targeted by death squads but that people who worked for shorter periods have been targeted? Do you not understand that the Army has not been keeping proper records of its Iraqi staff? Do you not know that the British Army sends units out on 6-month roulement tours of Iraq and that Iraqi staff worked for the duration of those tours and then were told to go and work for the Americans? Do you not realise that we are not asking for ‘rewards’ for long service but for sanctuary for people hunted by death squads?  

You’re going to be forced to do the right thing eventually- why not do it now, before more lives are lost? Or- since in your moral autism this appears to be the only argument that you can listen to- before you get more bad press?

Written Ministerial Statement

09 October 2007 IRAQ: ASSISTANCE TO LOCALLY EMPLOYED STAFF  

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. David Miliband):

On 8 August the Prime Minister announced a review of the Government’s assistance to our Locally Engaged staff in Iraq.  The Defence Secretary, Home Secretary, Secretary of State for International Development, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I have now agreed on the elements of a scheme.

Locally engaged Iraqi staff working for our armed forces and civilian missions in Iraq have made an invaluable contribution, in uniquely difficult circumstances, to the UK’s efforts to support security, stability and development in the new Iraq.   We are hugely grateful to them for their contribution, which continues to be essential to the delivery of our mission in Iraq. 

 In recognition of that,  we have decided to offer those staff, on an ex gratia basis, assistance which goes above and beyond the confines of what is lawfully or contractually required.  Assistance will be based on objective criteria, taking into account determinable and relevant factors.  It is offered in recognition of the service by these courageous Iraqis in direct support of HMG’s efforts to help the Iraqi Government and people build a peaceful, stable and prosperous Iraq.  

The assistance announced by the Prime Minister yesterday will allow Iraqi staff, including but not limited to interpreters, currently working[1] for HMG in Iraq, who have attained 12 months’ or more continuous service, to apply for a one-off package of financial assistance of between 6 and 12 months’ salary, depending on length of service, to meet the costs of relocation for themselves and their dependants in Iraq or the region, if they are made redundant or have to resign from their job because of what we judge to be exceptional circumstances.  Alternatively, these staff will be able to apply for exceptional leave to enter the UK, or to avail themselves of the opportunity for resettlement in the UK through the UK’s Gateway refugee resettlement programme, provided that they meet the criteria for the programme, including that they satisfy UNHCR that they meet the criteria of the 1951 Convention and need resettlement.

In addition, interpreters/translators and other Iraqi staff serving in similarly skilled or professional roles necessitating the regular use of written or spoken English, who formerly worked for HMG in Iraq, will be able to apply for assistance for themselves and their dependants provided that they satisfactorily completed a minimum of 12 months’ service, and they were in our employ on or after 1 January 2005.   Former staff meeting those criteria will be able to apply for a one-off package of financial assistance similar to that available for serving staff, or to avail themselves of the opportunity for resettlement in the UK through the Gateway programme as set out above.

This assistance will principally apply to Iraqi nationals who meet the eligibility criteria set out above, and who work, or have worked, in Iraq in the following capacities:

-         as direct employees of the UK Armed Forces or the Ministry of Defence;

-         on Letters of Appointment from the British Embassy in Baghdad or the British Embassy Offices in Basra and the Kurdistan Region;

-         as direct employees of DFID and the British Council.

In addition, we are considering what assistance may be provided to a limited number of contracted staff meeting the eligibility criteria who have worked in particularly close association with us as an integral part of HMG programmes, projects and operations in Iraq.    

We will announce further details, including on how eligible staff may apply, before the end of the month.  




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