Archive for August, 2007

Urgent: please fax the Home Office re Pegah Emambakhsh

August 24, 2007

At the risk of turning into the needy person from hell, can I please just ask everyone to have a look at this appeal by Peter Tatchell concerning an Iranian lesbian, Pegah Emambakhsh, due to be deported back to a regime which flogs, imprisons and not infrequently executes people for the crime of having consensual sex with other adults of the same gender. (If you have problems finding the relevant article on Tatchell’s site, click ‘International’).

This is all terribly late: she is due to be shunted on to the plane this Bank Holiday Monday. I became aware of the appeal only today. It means that letters are not going to get to the Home Office in time and writing to MPs is way too tortuous a process. Have a look at Tatchell’s site, grab some talking points from his ‘sample letters’ and send off a fax, fAO: Rt Hon Jacqui Smith, RE: Pegah Emambakhsh- Proposed Deportation. Quote Reference number ref. B1191057. The fax number is 0207 035 3262.

And can I just say that I don’t share Tatchell’s politics either (shorter: more wars so long as I don’t have to fight them).  It doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t. The Iranian regime has got a lot nastier since Emambakhsh lost her last appeal against deportation in 2005, and is now following the approved Mugabe line in covering up for economic failure with public beatings and killings of selected hate groups, notably including homosexuals. In Iran, ‘repression of homosexuals’ means not ‘halfwits making poofter jokes’, not even ‘bosses firing gays’ but ‘imprisonment, flogging and occasional judicial murder’.

I was told recently that the Home Office is monitoring the blog campaign for asylum rights for Iraqi employees. Ladies and gents: hello. I hope you and your families are well. And really, putting this woman on a plane back to a place where there’s a good chance she could be jailed or flogged or hanged: It’s not necessary. It’s not acceptable. It’s not, to be blunt with you, entirely human.

Two teenaged Quislings

August 20, 2007

Today I had a lively telephone conversation with Andrew Alderson, about the Iraqi asylum campaign. Alderson was deployed to Iraq as a TA Officer in 2003, and found himself trying to make sense of Basra’s banking system; a few months later he returned to run the finances of the Coalition Provincial Authority (South).

Whatever one thinks of the invasion of Iraq, only a nihilist or a lunatic could have wanted the country’s economy left in ruins. Alderson, being neither, had been determined to provide the people of Southern Iraq with functioning power and water systems, a stable currency and decently paid employment.

I mentioned that I’d bought his book ‘Bankrolling Basra’ and was reading it rather quickly: ‘Oh, it’s meant to be a rollercoaster‘ he said. It is. There goes our hero, with millions of dollars in his rucksack and a pistol in his chinos, off to pay the dockers or the electricity workers, demanding a power supply for a wrecked factory or scheming to circumvent the procurement rulebook to get the canal system fixed. Perhaps one notes a tendency for stories to conclude with some variation of ‘so I was proved right, again’, but Mr Alderson does work in the City.

What’s impressive is his emphasis that Iraqis must be given the chance to take key decisions, his determination to outsmart those British or American officials who were not prepared to let Iraqi engineers or bankers take the lead in their own country. It’s the most interesting account that I’ve read of applied finance in a poor nation  since ‘The Economist’s Tale’.

 But I just stopped reading it. This is the last thing I came to:

‘Shaimaa Falih and Likaa Falih were sisters aged 16 and 18, who worked in the CPA laundry. Both spoke excellent English and worked 12-hour shifts uncomplainingly in the tiny laundry-room area for about $350 a month. Both of them were warm and friendly girls and they’d smile and chat with us when we dropped off our laundry.

‘One evening after work they were being taken home by taxi as usual when the vehicle was confronted by four masked gunmen in a street just a few hundred yards from the girls’ home. One of the gunmen fired a bullet to stop the taxi while another tried to pull one of the sisters out of the car. She resisted and was shot in the head. When the other sister got out of the car she was also shot. The men then drove off in a getaway car. It was clear that Shaimaa and Likaa were murdered simply because they’d been working for foreigners. A few days later anonymous leaflets were left in the city denouncing the ‘traitorous’ and ‘immoral’ actions of the sisters for working with the CPA. They also threatened more attacks on Iraqi staff.’

A leaflet justifying the murder of teenage laundry girls as being an execution for treason- that means  this specimen isn’t merely a perverted cretin, but is also rather drearily unoriginal. Recall his slavering sneer, composed in between his labours as a crammer of bourgeois kids who have failed their A Levels, about the ‘excellent wages’ paid to those targeted by the death squads, and imagine what such a creature might offer in reptilian defence of these particular killings: ‘$350  a month for a little laundry work? Asking for it.’

This isn’t about only ‘translators’. This isn’t about just ‘the 91’. This is about two teenage girls murdered because they worked folding clothes in some sweatbox, the same as I did in my eighteenth summer, murdered because they worked for people sent there by our elected representatives. It’s about safeguarding those threatened with torture and death for the same reason, those Shaimaas and Likaas who are now hiding, in fear for their lives while we welcome or bemoan the return of the Premiership and read detailed articles on ‘Big Brother.’

You can research your MP here, you can get ideas for a letter here, and when you get a reply you can let us know here. That’s ‘can’ in the sense of ‘should’.  We don’t have the right to tell these people we will protect them and then abandon them to their deaths.

‘They will be treated as traitors’.

August 14, 2007

BBC Radio Five journalist Chris Vallance recently spoke to ‘Mohammed’, an Iraqi former interpreter for the US Marines. I am on the programme briefly, but the key points are made by Mohammed. Listen, please, to what he says, and listen also to the voice in which he says it.

If you haven’t done so already, you should research your MP here, and then write to them, if necessary using these talking points. Every letter to an MP so far has generated an inquiry to the Ministries concerned: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and above all the Home Office.

This is not solely about the 91 translators currently employed by the UK forces in Basra. Even they have not yet been guaranteed their safety despite the increase in media attention- but there are many more Iraqis facing the same threat of a horrible death for their work for British personnel. The Government must grant Asylum rights to any Iraqi who is seriously at risk of being murdered for having worked for this country.

A majority of MPs voted for this war, including such people as Hugh Bayley. They do not now have the right to announce that the price for the war will be paid in the lives of Iraqi workers, left to the death squads because a Labour Government was frightened of losing a few votes on the ‘immigration issue’.

Giving these people asylum is not our only responsibility to Iraqis. But it is the most urgent because these people are being targeted for murder, because of us, right now.

We can’t turn them away: Friday update

August 10, 2007

All new arrivals, sent here by the kindness of Neil ‘The Loony Whom Other Loonies Shun’ Clark, and looking for advice on writing to MPs about Asylum rights for Iraqi employees of the British Army: please go here first.

And now for those of you who have already written to their MPs, we have a number of things.

First, a very important point for all participating bloggers. Dsquared points out: ‘I think the phrase “Iraqi translators” is a bit dangerous, as it allows Des Browne to chew down the number of visas to the 90 people actually employed as interpreters).’

He’s right. This is a danger: not a danger that we’ll lose a point in a comments thread flamewar, but that the Government will get away with conceding Asylum rights to translators only, even if there are other employees or ex-employees (often with poorer command of English) equally at risk from the death squads. 

This is a blog campaign so it’s been completely non-hierarchical, as it should be. But I’ve consciously been avoiding the ‘Iraqi *interpreters*’ slogan, and have been using ’employees’ or ‘refugees’ or similar terms.  

Can everyone involved in the campaign please do likewise: this is not a campaign for ‘translators’, it’s a campaign for Iraqis whose work for the British puts them at risk of murder. ‘Employees’ will do fine. I know ‘The Times’ is talking almost exclusively about translators, but we can do far better than that. Thank you very much.

The most important campaign post of the last week was by Justin McKeating, who has been keeping score of MPs’ replies. Very many thanks to Justin, to whom a lot is owed, especially by me. I wouldn’t have responded the way he did to an email from someone I’d last heard of hurling abuse my way.

The most alarming post was by Tim Ireland. It’s a campaign video, its humour so black that it might have  disconcerted Jonathan Swift. Tim has also provided a button for easy downloading to other blogs and websites: easy, that is, if you’re not a technically ignorant cretin who can’t manage childishly simple business of copying and pasting a little HTML, which explains why there’s no button in this page.

The letters are getting results- MPs are referring the matter to the three Ministries concerned, the Home Office, the FCO and Defence. There’s been only one really poor piece of Government apologetics, from Hugh Bayly (Labour, City of York) – and Peter Sanderson’s letter back to him is a model of courteous but determined disagreement.

If you haven’t done so, write a letter. This was quite probably a policy of which neither the new Prime Minsister nor the new Home Secretary was really aware. The more light is shone upon it, the more they are going to recoil, disgusted, from its actual and potential consequences.

On the campaign itself: people are starting to take notice, and that brings its own problems. But let’s have a little perspective here.  What the hell are our problems to that of the average citizen of Basra, let alone one targeted for torture and assassination?

True, we might not like the sight of this or that politician, of whichever party, vocalising on our Nation’s sacred honour. We might not like The Times, which has run article after article on this matter. We might not like some of the bloggers who have written on this subject- many of whom, incidentally, have the best of reasons to dislike me. So what?

This isn’t about us. It’s about men and women hiding with their families in Basra, praying that the death squads don’t find them. We have to welcome anything that makes it harder for the Government to allow these people to be murdered.

There are two clear dangers for the translators now. One is that a decision on flying them here gets delayed by inter-departmental wrangling between the Home Office, desperate to keep the brown-skinned hordes away, and the MoD, whose civilian heads must be increasingly aware of the fury of the field commanders in Basra who are unwillingly following their orders to abandon men and women whom they know to be at risk.

The other danger is that the Government takes a Blairite line: when reality sucks, manage the perception. They might- they just might- decide to admit only a few dozen of the staff who have worked with British forces, concentrating on those who have been or might be in contact with the British media. This would be strategically foolish and morally disgusting.

Asylum rights must be given on the basis of need, to all those whose work for this country makes them likely targets of the murder gangs. Cases can and must be assessed rapidly- the best people to do so would be Army officers with experience of Iraq, liaising closely with MI5 officers to allay Home Office fears of jihadist penetration.

The Government may want to try a news management strategy, but this news won’t be managed.  The interpreters and other workers for UK forces have British friends: principally soldiers and foreign correspondents. They’ll know if the Basra death squads aren’t deprived of all their targets- and so, in short order, will we.

If a few high-profile cases are flown out of Iraq while others are left to the tender mercies of the Sadrists, Brown and Jacqui Smith will not be forgiven. This isn’t Brown’s policy, it isn’t Smith’s. It was implemented by Home Secretary John Reid under the Premiership of Tony Blair. Brown and Smith have a chance to show that they are better than Blair and Reid. If they know that they are under public scrutiny, they will be better placed to ignore the voices arguing, Alistair Campbell-like, for a strategy that manages the news at the expense of a few nameless Iraqis.

Write to your MP: this campaign hasn’t worked yet, and if it fails people are going to die needlessly and horribly.

Lunatic fringe update: What a piece of luck: the fruitcake’s fruitcake writes his fruitiest ever article attacking us! All we need now is the principled opposition of Nick Griffin.

Seriously, if the word can be used to anyone who has just attempted to read an effusion by Neil Clark: can everyone and anyone commenting on the CiF piece please include a link to a blogpost with the talking points for a letter to MPs? Link to any blog that does so, but CiF really did the dirty on us when they posted Dsquared’s article at 7pm on a Saturday. Now that we’ve got a high-profile article, thanks to dear Mr Clark, we’ve got to use it.

We can’t turn them away: responses from MPs

August 5, 2007

Skip the first paragraph if you already know about the campaign- otherwise read on. The British Government is currently denying entry to the UK to Iraqis  whose lives are threatened for having worked for British diplomats or soldiers. Some have already been murdered: many others have fled their homes and are trying to survive as refugees in Syria or Jordan, where they are turned away from British embassies. A number of bloggers, including myself, regard this as unacceptable. As a first step, we’d like our readers to write to their MPs, perhaps using the talking points laid out here. Some of the articles detailing what is happening to these Iraqis are here,  here, here, and here.

All of you can read this paragraph, though you’re not likely to enjoy doing so. Piling on the horrors is this article about the fate of an interpreter working for American troops.  Here’s an extract: ‘Living in Baghdad she got one warning note, ignored it, and was gunned down and left for dead by masked men in the alley beside her house just two days later. That was in the Spring of 2004. But May would not die.Whisked to a hospital where her identity as an American translator was revealed, she was declared dead back in her neighborhood for the safety of her family, while in reality she went into hiding.’

And here’s what eventually happened to her, something similar to what has happened to interpreters working for this country: ‘Motherhood is a strong pull though. May would leave the Green Zone fairly often, alone in her car, to go see her children for a few precious hours… While driving through the city to see her kids, May was intercepted and kidnapped by Ansar Al Sunna. Their standard tools are the AK-47, rape, and the power drill (with which they torture their captives, drilling holes through body parts until finishing them off with a drill-bit to the head). The day before the e-mail, the police found the husk of my friend’s body in downtown Baghdad. Ansar Al Sunna had taken full credit.’

Whether you are pro-war or anti-war, the occupation of Iraq was undertaken following a vote by our elected representatives. If people are being murdered for ‘working for the British’, then ‘the British’ must give them refuge.

Physically we are well able to deny these people safety- it is the simplest task to turn them away from our Embassies in Jordan and Syria. Morally, we can only do this if we wish to place ourselves beneath contempt.

Facing up to our specific duties with regards to these people does not excuse us from our wider duties to the Iraqi civilians- or British soldiers- affected by this war. But these current or former employees of Her Majesty’s Government are the people whose lives are now most endangered by our actions in Iraq. Of all our responsibilities, this is the one that must be most urgently fulfilled.

If our Government- if we – can wash our hands of these people then we can, and will, wash our hands of anyone. This must  be remembered by anyone refusing to support this campaign on the grounds that it ‘ignores the other Iraqis’. If you haven’t written to your MP, please do so. And please also take a few seconds to sign the Downing Street e-petition here.

Responses from MPs

Given that I’ll be out of the country for work reasons until the middle of August, I can’t yet share my MP’s reply. Rosie Bell, however, who also took part in the campaign, has done so, and has posted a very heartening reply from John Barrett, Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, which I reproduce below with Rosie’s permission.

Can I please ask all other people who have written to their MPs to either publish their replies on their blogs (and, if possible, let me know) or to email the texts to me, at If you want to redact any part of the text (your name, for example) go ahead. Even if you don’t want me to publish the letter, it would be helpful if I could have an idea of what your MP said to you.

There are two reasons for this. We will need, first of all, to see which MPs are sympathetic to this cause. If Government policy has not changed by the time Parliament  returns from the Summer recess, we will need to think about a face-to-face lobbying effort. Secondly, it is possible that MPs may be briefed by their front benches to send with stonewalling replies; some may even attempt to justify the policy. We need to identify these arguments so that they can be knocked down as speedily as possible. Thanks again to all the bloggers and blog-readers who have already taken part in this, and thanks to all those who will do so now.

John Barrett, MP, writing in reply to Rosie Bell:

‘Thank you for your email regarding your concerns about the current situation in Iraq. I voted against the initial invasion for a variety of reasons, however not even those of us who opposed the war could have foreseen just how disastrous the outcome of the invasion would be.

While Saddam Hussein was a fearful tyrant who brutally oppressed his own people, it is difficult to argue that the lives of Iraqi’s have improved for the better since his removal from power.

The plight of translators and other Iraqi’s who are working with British or coalition forces is a very serious issue that I am glad you raised. The job of an Iraqi interpreter has been described as the most dangerous job in world, and with good reason. As you mentioned, those who work as interpreters, translators or administrators for the British and American governments are often at the top of the insurgence hit lists. Once they’re identity has been revealed, it is often impossible for them to remain in Iraq and they are forced to join the approximately 2m Iraqi refugees who have been forced to flee to elsewhere in the Middle East. I believe strongly that we owe a duty of protection to those people who have risked a great deal to help our own efforts in Iraq, and to help rebuild their country.

You may have seen reports last Friday that the Danish government admitted to having secretly airlifted about 200 translators and other Iraqi employees of its troops out of Iraq under an asylum agreement offered to interpreters and aides who worked for Danish troops. As you mentioned US ambassador in Iraq has also called for all Iraqis working in support of the U.S. government to be offered refugee status. I believe the US, UK, EU and other states that have the capacity should provide resettlement programs for the refugees who are most vulnerable and at greatest risk.

The UK government announced on Friday that it was committed to looking after its troops’ Iraqi aides, estimated to number about 700, but reiterated that asylum applications would be considered on an individual basis. Often delays in visa applications are due to UK authorities needed to establish the authenticity of personal details from the applicant.

However, when individuals have been employed by and are working for the UK government, this information should be readily available and the application ought to be speedily processed. I have today written to the Foreign Secretary pressing him for assurances that we will meet our moral obligation to those interpreters and other staff who have done so much to help our own efforts to rebuild Iraq. I will send you his reply when I receive it.

I hope that this deals with the issues you hoped to raise – if you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thanks again for raising this underreported issue.

Best wishes,

John Barrett MP’