Iraq and ISIL

Here is a copy of the email I sent to residents this morning, asking for their views on Iraq and ISIL. You can let me know your views here.

Parliament has been recalled for tomorrow to vote on taking military action to support the Iraqi government in its struggle against ISIL.

As I write, I have no real detail on what the Prime Minister will lay out tomorrow – other than the Iraqi government has asked for our help in fighting ISIL.

I am clear at this point that helping at the request of the Iraqi government and taking some action in Iraq is one thing – but that any further incursion (for instance into Syria) is not on the table.

The UN estimates that 1.8 million people have been displaced in Iraq since January 2014. These displacements are a direct consequence of ISIL violence, killings, and threats. In addition to the displaced population, 1.5 million Iraqis are considered vulnerable in areas controlled by armed opposition groups. The crisis has affected more than 20 million people across the country.

In the debate tomorrow we will know what the proposition is and will be able to make a better judgment. But for now I am laying down some of my thinking and asking for your views.

I think this is an extremely dangerous moment for us – and all the options are hazardous. Whatever we do – I can see that we are in danger in our own country from ISIL – either as terrorist atrocities here fail to be stopped and / or as reprisals for intervention.

The Liberal Democrat party voted against the war in Iraq in 2003 – but we were in the minority and the UK still went to war. Because of that decision, I believe that the UK bears a huge and particular responsibility for Iraq.

Part of what is happening in the region now can be laid at the door of that disastrous foreign policy.

It is also our responsibility to stop slaughter on humanitarian grounds.

We bear the scars from the last Iraq war. My instinct is to not to want to get involved because of that experience. Equally – I never want to feel that we could have done something to stop the slaughter of innocent groups, but we just stood by.

I am uncomfortable with sitting on the sidelines and letting others do the tough stuff, and staying out won’t protect us. So until the actual proposition and debate tomorrow – we all need to think hard.

I know it is difficult to make a judgment with no details available yet about the proposition – but I would truly welcome your thoughts.

Iraqi interpreters – Government set to end help

I’ve blogged a few times about the fantastic campaigning done by Dan Hardie and others to highlight the dangers faced by Iraqis who had worked with our armed forces in Iraq. I sponsored a meeting in Parliament in 2007 and wrote about it:

Mark and Andrew both gave eye witness accounts of what is going on in Iraq and how those who helped us by translating or other service now are being hunted down and killed. It was graphic, appalling and compelling.

These horrors made the mealy-mouthed, half-arsed announcement by G Brown yesterday to allow those who worked for us for more than 12 months some financial (very low) package to resettle and under agreed circumstances admittance to the UK look completely inadequate.

To me, I longed for Gordon just to say what needed to be said – we have a moral responsibility towards you and you are welcome in our country. That’s what Denmark did. In fact Denmark recognising the danger in which their employees now were – flew them and their families out.

Whatever you think of the Iraq war (and I opposed it) – we should look after those we employed. But even the limited amount the Government was willing to do is now coming to an end. As today’s Times puts it,

The Government has been accused of deserting former Iraqi interpreters who risked their lives for Britain, after announcing that it would close its assistance scheme in a fortnight.

Britain’s treatment of the Iraqis was compared last night with that of the Gurkhas as it emerged that scores of families are still living in fear of being murdered by militias who accuse them of collaborating with the enemy.

MPs from all three parties have described the assistance scheme as deliberately restrictive and called for a review…

Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat MP, said: “There are going to be people still in danger. The enemy is still out there. It is mean-spirited.”

The Express also has coverage here.

Iraqi interpreters update

The indefatigable Dan Hardie has an update on his blog on the shameful way our government has failed to stand by Iraqis who worked with our armed forces. For all Gordon Brown’s fine words in October last year – Dan hasn’t been able to find any Iraqis who have actually been evacuated from Iraq since then.

As to why this matters – here’s what one of the people fearing for their lives says:

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__ .

So – do go read Dan’s post – and then lobby your MP (and, yes, it’s worth doing the lobbying even if your MP is someone like myself who is already supporting the cause – because the more contacts MPs get in total, the more pressure Government Ministers will feel under).

Ten most popular blog postings (4th quarter, 2007)

Well – happy new year everyone, and without further ado – here’s what keeping you reading on this blog over the last three months.

10. Low Copy Number DNA – a recap of my concerns about Labour’s plans for our DNA records, back in the news after this controversial new technique was criticised by the judge in the Omagh bomb case. I suspect I got a lot of traffic to this post as lots of people went searching for information on the topic after the news of the judge’s comments broke.

9. Crimestoppers caught advertising on illegal radio station – still going strong much to my surprise as the story is quite old now (see also the update if you’re new to the story).

8. Ian Blair should go – London’s top cop keeps making mistakes, and the time’s come for him to take direct personal responsibility for this record. As it turned out, only one Blair went in ’07.

7. Shadow Cabinet reshuffle – not really a blog posting because – as the news came out on my birthday – I just bunged up the news release – but nice to know so many people wanted to know quickly what post I’d got!

4. Wikipedia and its limitations – a slightly different posting from me this time; lesson noted that you dear reader like this sort of stuff!

3. Britain turns its back on more than half our Iraqi interpreters – the ongoing scandal of Labour’s refusal to protect those who worked for our armed forces in Iraq.

And of course the Lib Dem leadership contest featured – coming in at six, five, two and first in the list – no surprises there!

(Click to see the previous top tens).

Kim Howells puts the Government's case on Iraqi interpreters

It Helicopter in Iraqcompletely buggered up my going to Pond Square carols on Thursday – which is one of my fav of the year events – but having been trying to get a meeting with Minister Kim Howells about the Iraqi interpreters issue for some time – then when only the day before I was told that a 5.30pm meeting was arranged, that took precedence.

I think it was the powers of persuasion of Chris Bryant (MP for Rhondda, Labour) rather than my that achieved this – but also Ed Vaizey Conservative MP and Dan Hardie – my local constituent who first brought the issue to me and who is at the forefront of this campaign.

The Minister would only see MPs and Ed was unable to come – so myself and Chris put the issues to him. I have abbreviated substantially and just give the essential gist below. The answers are those given in the meeting by Kim Howells – rather than my own view of what the answers should be!

Q. Why had the Government decided that only those Iraqis who had worked for more than 12 months for the British armed forces could qualify for the asylum or resettlement grants?
A. Difficult to draw the line – but must be drawn somewhere otherwise Britain would be open to thousands coming here; 12 months seemed to accommodate most of those at risk.

Q. But why not make a decision based on a risk assessment of an individual’s circumstances rather than impose an arbitrary cut-off date?
A. Too difficult a process in the situation.

Q. Why can’t people who worked for the British armed forces before 1 January 2005 qualify for asylum or resettlement grants?
A. It wasn’t dangerous before then.

Q. Why is the process of helping those who have worked for our armed forces so slow? Time is of the essence when people are in fear of their lives.
A. Because it takes time to do checks before a person is got out of the country, and when they are got out to a third party country there is another delay there whilst their status etc. is sorted.

Q. How long is it between contact by an Iraqi in danger and getting him/her out of the country
A. Three months.

At this point the Minister had to attend the Commons Chamber and the meeting terminated. Kim Howells seemed genuinely committed to trying to get those at risk to safety – but in erring on the side of caution so much it did seem to me that he was getting it wrong.

There would be people whose cases did not neatly fit the guidlines, and the whole process can be terribly slow. When people’s lives are at risk, it is better – far, far better – to err on the side of of saving someone’s life. We live in a world that at times seems obsessed with avoiding any risk – hence all the warnings that packets of nuts may contain nuts, that hot drinks might be hot, and on and on. And yet then when we have lives at risk in this case – suddenly erring on the side of safety doesn’t apply. A mad, mad world!

To be continued…

But in the meantime, there are two things you can do:

  1. There’s an EDM (a sort of Parliamentary petition) you can ask your MP to sign. It’s EDM 401 and you can read it here and see who has signed it.
  2. You can sign the petition at ourcampaign.org.uk/interpreters

(If you’d like some more background on the issue, you can read my recent article on the subject).

Red tape and murder

That’s the title of the latest blog posting from Dan Hardie, the indefatigable blogger on the shameful way in which the British government is turning its back on those Iraqis who work as interpreters for our armed forces over there. As Dan writes:

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.

There’s an Early Day Motion in Parliament on this topic; please do ask your MP to sign. It’s EDM 401 and you can read it here and see who has signed it. To contact your MP, just visit www.writetothem.com and pop in your postcode.

Britain turns its back on more than half our Iraqi interpreters

The Times today really says it all:

More than half the Iraqi interpreters who applied to come to live in Britain have had their applications rejected, drawing accusations that the Government is “wriggling out” of its promise to help former Iraqi employees.

The Times has learnt that 125 of the 200 interpreters who took up the offer to resettle in Britain have failed to meet the strict criteria laid down for eligibility…

In three cases seen by The Times, former Iraqi employees were told that they were ineligible because of “absenteeism”.

The interpreters claim that they risked their lives to serve the British and are living in constant danger of reprisal from Shia militias. If they did not show up for work, it was because they were fleeing for their lives. They said that they now felt betrayed by the Government…

Lynne Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat MP who has championed the cause of the Iraqi interpreters, said that the Government needed to use its imagination in a difficult case.

“If those Iraqis who have helped us are now being told that they can’t come here because their absence was regarded as a resignation, this is the world gone mad,” she said.

If you’re as angry about this as I am – there are two things you can do:

  1. There’s an EDM (a sort of Parliamentary petition) you can ask your MP to sign. It’s EDM 401 and you can read it here and see who has signed it.
  2. You can sign the petition at ourcampaign.org.uk/interpreters

(If you’d like some more background on the issue, you can read my recent article on the subject).