Iraqi interpreters ask Britain for sanctuary after death threats

Who would you rather have; Shamima Begum – the one who betrayed her country and slept with the enemy or those abroad, who dedicate themselves to helping you even though you are a foreigner to their land?


Full article from the Times below…

Eight Iraqi interpreters who helped British forces fighting Islamic State are now in fear of their lives after being threatened by Iranian-backed militias.

Seven are in hiding because they believe their identities have been exposed to anti-coalition groups targeting bases used by US and UK troops.

The interpreters stopped translating for British forces at Camp Taji military base 25 miles north of Baghdad in March last year as the troops who were training Iraqi ground forces started to leave the country.

The Times has spoken to two who claim that their full names, identification numbers and vehicle registrations were handed over to Iraqi Security Forces. The information, they say, was circulated to checkpoints in Baghdad, which meant it also ended up in the hands of Iranian-backed militias.

The same groups responsible for attacking bases where coalition troops were stationed targeted one of the interpreters, Omer, posting three bullets through his door. Militia groups also issued warnings telling Iraqis working with coalition forces to co-operate with them instead.

All of the interpreters have moved except for one who could not afford to. In some cases they have left their families amid concerns that they would be found and killed.

The Ministry of Defence said it was investigating the allegations. It is understood that the British military believes there were no data breaches and that standard security was followed.

Another interpreter, Hasan, 38, said he has not seen his wife and 11-year-old son for almost three months after they ran away to live with other family and he went into hiding near Baghdad.

“They [militia groups] know everything, so now we are just waiting here for them to kill us. I don’t feel safe in my home and I cannot go out to work because I am afraid to go past the checkpoints”, he said.

Hasan, not his real name, was one of the eight interpreters working for TBW Global, a company based in London, to translate for UK forces as contractors. He started working at Camp Taji, where hundreds of British troops were carrying out a training mission, in December 2018. He said that in January 2020 everything changed when the Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, and a senior Iraqi militia leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis were killed by the US.

Iranian-backed militias increased their targeting of coalition bases and in March a British reservist, Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon, died with two Americans in a rocket attack on the camp.

Hasan said tougher security requirements after the attacks meant that interpreters had to supply their full documentation including vehicle details to the coalition. “They told us they would not pass this information to the Iraqi government but it was then circulated for all the checkpoints throughout Baghdad. Many of these checkpoints are joint with the Popular Mobilisation Forces — the legal name of these militias, of which many of them have loyalty to Iran”, he said.

He is appealing to Britain to give him and his family sanctuary. “We are not a huge number, there are only eight of us with our families.”

Omer, 37, who is married with 10-year-old daughter, said his family had to leave their home after being threatened by members of Ashab Al Kahf (people of the cave), an anti-western militia. He said: “My family was threatened some months ago. My wife went to the main door to our home and found an envelope with three AK bullets (from an AK-47) — each for one of my family members.”

The letter warned: “You will have a share of our punishment and you will not have mercy from us.”

Dr Jack Watling, research fellow for land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute, said there were around 120,000 members of different militias which make up the Iraqi-state backed Popular Mobilisation Forces in Iraq. The majority are either Iranian-backed or under Iranian control. He said the groups had stepped up targeting of coalition bases and that the interpreters were “very vulnerable”.

He added: “The interpreters’ identities would be trackable and there is a record of these groups going out to murder people and some of the people they are interested in murdering have worked with the coalition.

The Ministry of Defence said: “While we do not employ interpreters in Iraq directly, we take any breach of personal security extremely seriously. We hold our contractors to the highest standards and are investigating.”

A campaign in The Times previously highlighted the plight of Iraqi interpreters who were regarded as traitors by anti-British militias after working with UK forces during the Iraq war. Hundreds of interpreters and their families were eventually promised sanctuary in the UK.

Similarly, more than 1,300 Afghan interpreters and their families have been allowed to Britain after the government repeatedly changed its policy following significant pressure.

What is the UK government policy towards Iraqi interpreters?
Interpreters who served alongside British forces during the Iraq war were allowed to resettle in the UK after a campaign in the Times highlighted how they were regarded as traitors by anti-British militias.

Applicants for the government scheme, which was announced in 2007, had to prove they had worked for the British for at least 12 consecutive months.

A total of 1,328 locally employed civilians, many of them interpreters, and their family members have come to the UK since.

What about the Afghan interpreters?
The government has repeatedly changed its position on the Afghan interpreters after evidence emerged of them being targeted by the Taliban for being the “eyes and ears” of UK forces.

At present, interpreters are allowed to come to the UK if they have served in Helmand province for over 12 months or if they can prove they have been intimidated, although no interpreters have been allowed to the UK under the latter policy.

So far 1,347 locally employed civilians, mainly interpreters, and their family members have been given sanctuary in Britain.

Dozens of interpreters who did not serve 12 months in Helmand or fled to third countries have not been allowed to come to the UK. In total 1,010 interpreters out of 2,850, or 35 per cent, had their contracts terminated for “disciplinary reasons” without a right of appeal between December 2001 and August 2014.

What is the problem now with Iraqi interpreters?
Eight interpreters who worked alongside UK forces in Iraq as they trained locals to fight Islamic State say they are being targeted by Iranian-backed militias.

As they were employed by contractors and not directly by the British, there is no obvious route to the UK for them. The government has said it is investigating claims their details were handed over to Iraqi forces then militia groups targeting the UK and US coalition.