Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Resist the betrayal

British withdrawal from southern Iraq is now in the foreseeable future, with the concentration at Basra Air Station, the impending closure of Basra Palace PJCC, and the departure of the first 500 troops. Therefore, it is high time to consider the fate of Iraqis who took our side during the occupation. Denmark, whose government originally attempted to abandon theirs, has been brought around by the insistence of its army to extract some three hundred people in advance of the Danish battalion's withdrawal. The US Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, recently cabled Washington to raise his concern that Iraqi employees feared the US would abandon them. Their fears are far from unfounded.

Whatever your opinion on the war with Iraq, the case is morally and practically incontrovertible. Morally, at least some of these people will have acted because they (however unwisely) thought we really were an army of liberation. But even the ones whose motives were entirely mercenary are human beings. If any have committed crimes, the place to deal with them is in a court. It is usually thought that it is precisely in the worst cases that we must stick to principle, because it is most likely to be violated then. And it is not enough to say (as the Government does) that they can register with the UNHCR, and join the Iraqi refugees in Jordan or Syria (never mind the dangers of travelling from Basra to the Syrian border); because these places are also used by the Iraqi insurgents as rear areas, they would be in as much danger there as in Iraq.

Practically, objections have been raised that this would be a bad example, that it would be a signal of impending defeat, and that it might be a problem of force protection from here to the final withdrawal. Well, the signal of impending defeat is a ship that sailed years ago. And force protection is far more likely to be imperilled if all the Army's touts in Basra were to realise that their only hope of security would be to rat as soon as possible and as comprehensively as possible. When the Israeli army left southern Lebanon in 2000, they attempted to leave behind the locally-recruited militia they created in this area - unsurprisingly, far from staying in position to cover the retreat, its members either fled or appeared on the Israeli border with their weapons. The result was a far more difficult retreat, and the Israelis had to accept them anyway.

The question will be raised whether we should accept these people instead of other Iraqi refugees. It is invidious. We should of course accept Iraqi refugees; it is morally appalling that we have so far not done so. It follows that refusing to accept people who are in greater danger would be worse still. The total number is probably not great.

So, why not write to them? Them being your elected (and unelected) representatives. Dan Hardie has prepared both a list of talking points and a form letter. It is strongly recommended that you use the talking points and write your own.

Update: There's also an e-petition to sign.

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