As the British troops' main mission now appears to be to act as target practice for Shia militias, the withdrawal from Basra city is nevertheless a step in the right direction.
One cause for concern, however, is the safety of locally employed staff who have been working for British forces. In one of those curious coincidences, I received a follow up reply from my MP this morning on the issue of asylum for Iraqis at risk because of their association with British troops. He had passed on my concerns to the Home Office back in July. Here's the reply he was sent (dated 29th August):
Thank you for your letter to Liam Byrne of 25th July on behalf of Garry Smith of.... I have been asked to reply.They say that the secret of good comedy is timing and again, this would be funny if it wasn't about people having holes drilled in their skulls.
Mr Smith asks us to grant asylum in the United Kingdom to locally engaged staff who have helped the British Forces in Iraq.
We are extremely grateful for the service of locally employed staff in Iraq and take their security very seriously. We recognise that there are concerns about the safety of locally employed staff. We keep all such issues under review and we will now look again at the assistance we provide. The total number of Iraqis who have worked for us since 2003 with a claim to assistance could be at least 15,000. We therefore need to consider the options carefully in this genuinely complex area.
The Prime Minister has commissioned a trilateral Ministerial review to consider the options. The Home Office, Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office are the members of the review group, which will present recommendations to Ministers in late September. At this stage it would not be appropriate to pre-empt the recommendations. I hope this reassures yo that we are taking seriously the issues that have been raised surrounding locally employed staff working for the UK in Iraq.
Is it not absolutely unequivocally clear that this review needed to be completed and Ministerial decisions made before the British withdrawal from Basra city? Not for our government apparently. Perhaps that's why Des Browne's figure of around 20,000 Iraqis who may need assistance has now fallen to 15,000. A few more weeks, especially now that the troops are not inside Basra, and that may have fallen to even more manageable numbers.
If you are able not to think about the fact that we're talking about people who could be saved being abandoned by our government to be tortured to death, it all seems perfectly reasonable.
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