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.  



Iraqi employees: the numbers game

October 8, 2007

The Government are saving some Iraqis threatened with death if they’ve worked for us for 12 months, and abandoning others, equally threatened with death but who’ve worked for less than 12 months. They’re playing a numbers game with people’s lives.

I spoke a few minutes ago with Mark Brockway, and he made these substantive criticisms:

1)The Numbers Game: The demand that Iraqis must have worked for the British Army or Government for 12 months is wholly arbitrary. Of the people Mark knows, around a quarter have worked for less than 12 months for the British Army but are threatened by the death squads- one or two were detected by the militias early in their service and the others started off working for the British and then were told by the Army to go and work for the Americans- there was quite a lot of  this ‘passing on’ of skilled interpreters and other staff.

2) So: Principles must count for more than Numbers. What we’ve always said: the principle must be that anyone threatened with death for having worked for us must be evacuated. We are only talking a few hundred people here anyway, so the Government’s quibbling over numbers is particularly shameful.

3) Families. Gordon Brown did not mention families of threatened staff, and told Menzies Campbell that up to 250 people would probably need help. The local militias murder families of their enemies, and so the Government must make accept the principle that if they want to take their families with them, they can.

4) Resettlement in the Middle East. Some Iraqi employees might welcome resettlement in the Middle East rather than in the UK, but any resettlement package must be generous- these people risked their lives for our soldiers- and Iraqis must not be pressured to choose resetlement in the Middle East rather than the UK. One Iraqi told Mark Brockway ‘I am at risk in Iraq but even more at risk in Syria- I know less about where to hide.’

Our campaign, and the Times’s campaign, have pushed the Government this far. We can push them further. What was announced today is the thin end of the wedge, and we are going to hammer that wedge in. Tomorrow, 7-9pm, in the Attlee Suite at Portcullis House: see you there.

Meeting now in Portcullis House

October 8, 2007

And another announcement: the meeting on Iraqi Employees will take place on the same day (Tuesday 9th October) at the same time (7-9pm) with the same speakers in a changed venue very close to the original one: the Attlee Suite in Portcullis House (MPs’ own office block, opposite Parliament). The long-suffering and highly efficient Mette Kahlin will be standing outside the door of the old venue (Committee Room 14 in Parliament) pointing the way to the new venue, which is the Attlee Suite in Portcullis House. How do you get there? Walk to Parliament and it’s the very ugly building at the corner of Bridge Street and Victoria Embankment, facing Big Ben (or St. Stephen’s Tower, if you really must). If you get lost, which you won’t, ask one of the police officers, who are actually very helpful, or just look round for the biggest eyesore. It is unmissably hideous.

Poor Mette had the job, a couple of hours ago, of telling me that – despite the fact that she booked the room back in the first week of September, despite the fact that not double-booking rooms is a task open to the simplest person capable of using something like Outlook, despite the fact that a struggling provincial hotel could manage to avoid doing something like this- a Cabinet Minister claimed that she had previously booked the room and so we were bounced out. Oh, imagine my joy. It quite took the pleasure out of learning that I was a qualified physician.

Salt in the wound: the Cabinet Minister in question is Hazel Blears. Silver lining: we can get TV crews in to film in the Attlee Suite, which we couldn’t in Committee Room 14.  That’s Committee Room 14, our old venue. And of course our new venue is the Attlee Suite in Portcullis House.

Iraqi Employees: Maintain the pressure

October 7, 2007

Gordon Brown may apparently be making a statement on Iraq to the House of Commons tomorrow afternoon, sometime after 2pm. He may or may not mention Britain’s Iraqi employees and the need of some of them for asylum. The Times article of Saturday promises nothing but gave the Government a big, positive headline: classic spin. I have always said, when writing to Jacqui Smith and other Ministers, that to pre-announce asylum for Iraqi employees before they’d actually been taken to safety would increase the risks to them and to the British soldiers who would have to evacuate them. I hope desperately that this won’t happen. I also hope that we will see a genuine promise of resettlement for all who are identified as being seriously at risk for having worked for the British in Iraq.

Brown may or may not promise this on Monday afternoon: frankly they have been so grudging that I doubt it.  The Government are going to have to be pushed to do the right thing, so the meeting on Tuesday, October 9th is now more important than ever: we can win if we keep pushing.  It’s at Parliament, Committee Room 14, St Stephen’s entrance, from 7-9pm. Invite your MP and come yourself.

I am not a Doctor

October 7, 2007

I am not a Doctor, of Medicine or anything else.  Nor have I ever claimed to be a Doctor. I have indeed completed a medical training course of two weeks’ duration.  I do, in fact, research a particular commodities industry, and the journalist who just called me a Doctor in the pages of a national newspaper knows this because we first met when I brought his attention to a story about the price of building materials and the cost of the London Olympics. If he’d forgotten that, he needed to simply check with me as to my profession, or to the extent of my medical training, and he didn’t.

This is simply so that we don’t get Press Officers saying that I’m some nutter who has awarded himself a medical degree. No I’m not, and no I haven’t. I also note that I am entirely in agreement with Ministry of Defence policy, that serving soldiers should not speak to the Press without permission, and should not make political statements under any circumstances. Reservists- who include a number of MPs-  may do both so long as they do so as citizens, without identifying themselves as soldiers or doing so whilst they are in uniform, or revealing sensitive or classified military information.

How to Invite your MP

October 1, 2007

Another excuse dies the death: the Americans, or at any rate their Congress, are doing what the British Government lacks the moral courage to do. (Hat tips to these two gentlemen.)

There will be a meeting at Parliament on Tuesday October 9th, to call for the British Government to recognise its responsibilities and give shelter to the Iraqis endangered by their work for this country’s troops and diplomats. You can invite your MP.  And if you care about these people, you should. 

The more MPs we get in the meeting, the better. They are not going to listen to Mark Brockway, who is getting desperate emails from the Iraqis he hired, and walk away indifferent; they are not going to listen to Richard Beeston of the Times and decide that they can ignore this. We are going to make it impossible for the Home Office to carry on with its delaying tactics.

This is how to invite your MP:

1) Find your MP: type your postcode into ‘They work for you’.

2) Copy-and-paste or better still, adapt this form invitation below (and make any changes you want, but we have to keep these letters courteous).  Also; make sure that your address and postcode are on the letters

3) You can then either email it to your MP (email addresses for MPs take the form surnameinitial@parliament.uk– thus Gordon Brown is  BROWNG@parliament.uk ) or you can post it to ‘MP’s name,  The House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA.’ If you have the time, printed letters are better than emails: and it’s not that hard to write a letter, is it? If you get a bounceback from an MP’s email address, get in touch with me  (danhardie.blog@gmail.com ) as I have a bunch of alternative contact details now, or -better still- write the print letter and post it.  Please make sure that your address and postcode are clearly written on either emails or print letters, so that the MP realises they are dealing with one of their own constituents.

4) If you are in London on the evening of Tuesday 9th October, please come along to the meeting in person. Go to St Stephen’s entrance, facing College Green (the police tend to be helpful here) and ask for admission. There will be at least one campaigning blogger at the entrance, ready to point you in the right direction: remember the meeting starts at 7pm.

Thank you- and, hopefully, see you there.

FORM INVITATION:

Iraqi Employees of British Forces – Parliamentary Speaker Meeting, Tuesday October 9th

Dear NAME

As your constituent, I am writing on behalf of ‘We can’t turn them away’, an online campaign for resettlement for those Iraqis threatened by death squads for their work with British forces. We would like to invite you to a meeting in Committee Room 14 of the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday October 9th from 7 to 9pm .

As you may well have seen in The Times, Iraqi citizens who have worked as interpreters for British forces are being tortured and murdered by death squads for having worked with the occupying forces.

Speakers will include:

Mark Brockway (a former Warrant Officer in the Territorial Royal Engineers, who ran the

British Army’s Quick Impact Reconstruction Projects in 2003,  when he hired a great many

Iraqi staff in 2003. Mark has been in close contact with them since and knows of at least

one who has been recently murdered;

Richard Beeston, senior Foreign Correspondent for ‘The Times’ newspaper.

Ed Vaizey MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Lynne Featherstone MP, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for International Development.

A senior Labour MP.

A number of reporters from television, the national press and BBC Radio will attend the meeting.

This is a cross-party, moral issue, on which both opponents and supporters of the Iraq war can agree. Whilst the Government has said that it is reviewing the policy, no change has yet been made, and further delay is likely to leave Iraqi employees at the mercy of the local death squads. Attendance at this event certainly does not imply any agreement with the aims of our campaign: you are welcome to come and ask searching questions, or to send a Researcher to represent you.

If you cannot come to the meeting, I would also ask that you write to the Home Secretary, and to the Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne, asking for an explanation of why policy has not changed despite the announcement of an ‘urgent review’ of the matter on August 8th this year.  

Thank you very much for your time.

There’s only one Alisher Usmanov

September 25, 2007

This blog’s ex-Soviet affairs correspondent writes, in response to my request for details about Alisher Usmanov, that he is ‘one of the worst’ of the current Russian oligarchs, and notes that ‘Central Asia was infamous for its mafia even in the late soviet period’, which is when and where our boy cut his teeth.

There has been something sinister for a while now about the unchallenged ‘populist’ status given to any rich man who buys a football club.  Since at least 1986, in fact, when Silvio Berlusconi bought AC Milan. At about the same time, Bernard Tapie was attempting to use Olympique Marseille for the same reasons: buy the love of a crowd of football supporters, in the hope that you can then buy the love of further crowds of journalists and voters. It didn’t work in France, since Tapie wasn’t quite clever enough to hide his many crooked deals, but it worked for Berlusconi, for long enough to enable him to do further damage to the vandalised brothel that is the Italian State.

British millionaires don’t want to buy themselves political careers- presumably because they are smart enough to know that there are better ways to get your mitts on power than becoming an MP. But at least two shady rich men have bought themselves security by purchasing an English football club. The dumbly uncritical British media has surpassed itself in its treatment of Roman Abramovitch: aren’t there even a few questions you want to ask about how a near-penniless accountant became a billionaire in the most violent, unrestrained asset-grab of the last hundred years?

As for Mr Mohammed Al-Fayed, owner of Fulham, the dirt has already been uncovered, by Tom Bower, who wrote an excellent biography of the man. He’s a liar, he’s a thug, he’s a racist. Among the many foul details uncovered, we learned that Al-Fayed had a particular detestation for black people, often ordering his security detail (who had suspiciously close links to certain parts of the Metropolitan Police) to eject ‘fugging black bastards’ from his premises. Bower published his book in the UK, which has strict libel laws; the multi-millionaire Mr Al-Fayed, normally the most litigious of men, has never chosen to sue him for libel. Strange. Even stranger is the fact that our newspapers’ football correspondents, those tribunes of the People’s Game, have never chosen to repeat these facts (which, given Mr Al-Fayed’s reluctance to sue, is surely what they are) in any article about good old Fulham Football Club.

A nasty phenomenon is getting nastier. Usmanov is far worse than either Al-Fayed or Abramovitch. Russia, over the last few years, has seen the systematic destruction of what had been a burgeoning free media, as a company called Gazprom has bought up dissenting news outlets, changed their editorial line to one singing the praises of a the ex-KGB man in charge of the country, and fired inconvenient journalists and editors. Well, fired the ones who didn’t mysteriously fall out of windows.  And Gazprom is owned by – Alisher Usmanov.

Do you think the football-loving MPs and celebrities of the UK will mention that Arsenal should not be bought by an animal who does things like this? Do you think British journalists will feel even a twinge of sympathy with Russian journalists, or will they merely despise the fools for trying to write about genuine threats to people’s lives when they could just be obsessing about sport?

Answers on a postcard. We’ve erected a fake populist culture in this country which is all too ready to connive at bullying the powerless, and all too suited to pampering the powerful. Why does Abramovitch own Chelsea? So that if the wheel turns in Russia and Putin or his successor try to do to Abramovitch what they did to his fellow oligarch billionaire Berezovsky, and throw him in jail he can always  rely on British diplomats to plead for him to be flown to Heathrow. You think any British Prime Minister is going to ignore the screaming front pages of every tabloid in the country? And Fayed- he has never got British citizenship, for reasons that will be entirely apparent to any reader of Bower’s work- but his ownership of Fulham greatly diminishes any chance that the authorities will ever make trouble for him.

This, by the way, is the Craig Murray text Mr Usmanov’s shyster lawyers have worked so successfully to ban:

‘Alisher Usmanov, potential Arsenal chairman, is a Vicious Thug, Criminal, Racketeer, Heroin Trafficker and Accused Rapist

I thought I should make my views on Alisher Usmanov quite plain to you. You are unlikely to see much plain talking on Usmanov elsewhere in the media becuase he has already used his billions and his lawyers in a pre-emptive strike. They have written to all major UK newspapers, including the latter:

“Mr Usmanov was imprisoned for various offences under the old Soviet regime. We wish to make it clear our client did not commit any of the offences with which he was charged. He was fully pardoned after President Mikhail Gorbachev took office. All references to these matters have now been expunged from police records . . . Mr Usmanov does not have any criminal record.”

Let me make it quite clear that Alisher Usmanov is a criminal. He was in no sense a political prisoner, but a gangster and racketeer who rightly did six years in jail. The lawyers cunningly evoke “Gorbachev”, a name respected in the West, to make us think that justice prevailed. That is completely untrue.

Usmanov’s pardon was nothing to do with Gorbachev. It was achieved through the growing autonomy of another thug, President Karimov, at first President of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic and from 1991 President of Uzbekistan. Karimov ordered the “Pardon” because of his alliance with Usmanov’s mentor, Uzbek mafia boss and major international heroin overlord Gafur Rakimov. Far from being on Gorbachev’s side, Karimov was one of the Politburo hardliners who had Gorbachev arrested in the attempted coup that was thwarted by Yeltsin standing on the tanks outside the White House.

Usmanov is just a criminal whose gangster connections with one of the World’s most corrupt regimes got him out of jail. He then plunged into the “privatisation” process at a time when gangster muscle was used to secure physical control of assets, and the alliance between the Russian Mafia and Russian security services was being formed.

Usmanov has two key alliances. He is very close indeed to President Karimov, and especially to his daughter Gulnara. It was Usmanov who engineered the 2005 diplomatic reversal in which the United States was kicked out of its airbase in Uzbekistan and Gazprom took over the country’s natural gas assets. Usmanov, as chairman of Gazprom Investholdings paid a bribe of $88 million to Gulnara Karimova to secure this. This is set out on page 366 of Murder in Samarkand.

Alisher Usmanov had risen to chair of Gazprom Investholdings because of his close personal friendship with Putin, He had accessed Putin through Putin’s long time secretary and now chef de cabinet, Piotr Jastrzebski. Usmanov and Jastrzebski were roommates at college. Gazprominvestholdings is the group that handles Gazproms interests outside Russia, Usmanov’s role is, in effect, to handle Gazprom’s bribery and sleaze on the international arena, and the use of gas supply cuts as a threat to uncooperative satellite states.

Gazprom has also been the tool which Putin has used to attack internal democracy and close down the independent media in Russia. Gazprom has bought out – with the owners having no choice – the only independent national TV station and numerous rgional TV stations, several radio stations and two formerly independent national newspapers. These have been changed into slavish adulation of Putin. Usmanov helped accomplish this through Gazprom. The major financial newspaper, Kommersant, he bought personally. He immediately replaced the editor-in-chief with a pro-Putin hack, and three months later the long-serving campaigning defence correspondent, Ivan Safronov, mysteriously fell to his death from a window.

All this, both on Gazprom and the journalist’s death, is set out in great detail here.

Usmanov is also dogged by the widespread belief in Uzbekistan that he was guilty of a particularly atrocious rape, which was covered up and the victim and others in the know disappeared. The sad thing is that this is not particularly remarkable. Rape by the powerful is an everyday hazard in Uzbekistan, again as outlined in Murder in Samarkand page 120. If anyone has more detail on the specific case involving Usmanov please add a comment.

I reported back in 2002 or 2003 in an Ambassadorial top secret telegram to the Foreign Office that Usmanov was the most likely favoured successor of President Karimov as totalitarian leader of Uzbekistan. I also outlined the Gazprom deal (before it happened) and the present by Usmanov to Putin (though in Jastrzebski’s name) of half of Mapobank, a Russian commercial bank owned by Usmanov. I will never forget the priceless reply from our Embassy in Moscow. They said that they had never even heard of Alisher Usmanov, and that Jastrzebski was a jolly nice friend of the Ambassador who would never do anything crooked.

Sadly, I expect the football authorities will be as purblind. Football now is about nothing but money, and even Arsenal supporters – as tight-knit and homespun a football community as any – can be heard saying they don’t care where the money comes from as long as they can compete with Chelsea.

I fear that is very wrong. Letting as diseased a figure as Alisher Usmanov into your club can only do harm in the long term.’

October 9th: Bring your own MP

September 5, 2007

The letters are working.  Twelve days ago I met with my MP: ‘Ah, the letters’ was almost the first thing she said. ‘We’ve all been having a lot of them, and we’ve all been on to the Home Office to get the policy changed. What are you hearing? They haven’t changed it?’ Policy is going to change, but slowly. There’s a distinct lack of speed.

What I’m hearing from soldiers who have hired Iraqi employees, and who are now in contact with these people as they flee to Syria and Jordan, or hide out in Basra, is: lack of speed is killing.  One ex-Royal Engineer told me on the phone last night about a man he recruited in 2003 who hoped to build a new Iraq, then fled the country, and then was murdered at some point in the last few weeks.

What can you do?

If you’ve already written to your MP, write or email him or her again: and this time, invite them to a speaker meeting at Parliament on the second day of the new session, Tuesday 9th October.

If you haven’t already written to your MP, please do so. You can find out about your MP here. utline what’s happening and why we should be concerned, ask them to contact the relevant Ministries (particularly the Home Office but also the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and also invite them to the meeting. Talking points for both letters are below. Any blogger who has participated in this campaign is invited, and so is any blogreader who successfully invites their MP: just email me at danhardie.blog@gmail.com and an invitation will be heading your way.  Stress to MPs that mainstream print and TV journalists will be present: that is the kind of thing that tends, for some reason, to attract them. And stress that this is the first blog-based campaign in the UK: this is how politics is going, and they need to see what it looks like.

Talking points for an invitation letter- if you’ve already corresonded with your MP on this subject:

  • The Government has not yet altered policy, despite calling an inter-departmental review, and in the meantime Iraqis who worked for the British are successfully being hunted down by death squads.
  • There will be a cross-party meeting, organised by the online campaign for Asylum rights for Iraqi employees. It will take place in Parliament in Committee Room 14 (St Stephen’s Entrance) from 7-9pm on Tuesday 9th October. Please arrive early to avoid hideous disappointment, etc.
  • The main speaker will be a British soldier who hired a number of Iraqis and is in contact with many of them now, including many who have fled Iraq ahead of the death squads: he will give an up-to-date, detailed picture of events on the ground.
  • There will also be speeches by Ed Vaizey (Conservative MP for Wantage, Spokesman for Culture, Media and Sport) and Lynne Featherstone (Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, Spokeswoman for International Development), and by at least one senior Labour backbencher.
  • Stress this: It will be reported by Channel Four News and probably other TV news organisations, BBC Radio Four and Radio Five Live, and by reporters and columnists from The Times, The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Evening Standard, The New Statesman, The Observer and The Evening Standard.
  • The event is supported by Amnesty International, The Refugee Council and Human Rights Watch, who will all have people present.

To write a  first letter on this subject to your MP:

Use these talking points, then give them the location and timing of the meeting, and don’t forget to tell them about the TV crews.

Thank you.

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.