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Questions remain over Brown's pledge to Iraqi interpreters

  • Richard Colebourn
  • 8 Oct 07, 06:41 PM

TranslatorBAGHDAD - After weeks of election speculation, the Prime Minister's Commons statement on Britain's military deployment in Iraq will inevitably be viewed through a domestic political prism. But for a group of Iraqis, scattered around the Middle East, the statement provided some long awaited hope.

Newsnight was first to report the death threats facing Iraqis who worked for the British military in Basra and at the British Embassy in Baghdad (read about it here and watch the report). Regarded as collaborators with the enemy, many have felt forced to flee to neighbouring Syria and Jordan. Unable to work in their new homes, they live off rapidly diminshing savings and fear deportation by the police.

Since Newsnight covered the story others have followed, including The Times which has run a number of articles campaigning on the issue. Today the Prime Minister announced the Government's response. Iraqi staff who are still working for the British and who have served for 12 months will be able to apply for financial support to aid resettlement elsewhere in Iraq or in the Middle East. In certain circumstances - yet to be defined - they will be entitled to admission to the UK.

Professional staff, including the translators and administrators interviewed by Newsnight, who left employment since the start of 2005 will be entitled to the same assistance.

This will be welcomed by the Iraqi refugees. Many don't want asylum in Britain. They want to stay in Syria or Jordan until it is safe to return and to help rebuild Iraq. But they need assistance to live in countries where the cost of living is five times that in Iraq.

However, there are plenty of questions about how Brown's proposals will work. I interviewed Jassim in Damascus earlier in the year. His name has been changed to protect his identity. He worked for the British military in Basra since 2003. "It's a good decision," he said, welcoming Brown's announcement. "But there are thousands and thousands of Iraqis who worked for the British."

He's sceptical about how such assistance can be administered. Along with other Iraqis, he has been refused entry to the British Embassy in Damascus. The Embassy's consular section has been closed for some time. But more Iraqi refugees live in Damascus than anywhere else in the world. Will the British be able to cope with the applications for assistance that they are sure to receive?

Monday, 8 October, 2007

  • Newsnight
  • 8 Oct 07, 06:09 PM

From tonight’s presenter Gavin Esler:

What next?
brownnn_203.jpgIt's been a busy day for the Prime Minister. Michael Crick will be assessing Gordon Brown's performance at his press conference, and in the Commons. Now the decision by the Prime Minister not to call an election has been made we can concentrate on the substance of what his premiership will bring. On Iraq today and on the economy tomorrow, we'll be assessing Mr Brown's "vision" - what he says he would like the electorate to judge him on.

We may not be exercising our democratic right in the next few weeks, but we have a series of films looking at those who will be around the world. Tonight we have a fascinating report about the story of a Japanese councillor seeking election. Watch it and you'll get an extraordinary insight into Japanese life and culture.

Partisan excitement no friend of cool calculation

  • Newsnight
  • 8 Oct 07, 11:59 AM

As non-election fever dies down, Psephologist Professor John Curtice offers a few observations about the outcome of the past couple of weeks.

Labour's early election project always looked a rather dubious enterprise. On average the party's lead over the Conservatives since Mr Brown became leader was running at around six points. That could well have been enough for a three figure majority. But it was not sufficiently far above the four point lead Mr Brown needed to be sure of emulating the 66 majority Mr Blair won in 2005. Just a percentage point swing or so to the Conservatives over the course of the campaign could have dashed Mr Brown's hopes of securing a “personal mandate”.

Continue reading "Partisan excitement no friend of cool calculation"

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