Iraq is getting back to normal, and other flights of fantasy

Wow. We’ve gone from Britain being an ash-infested no-fly-zone, to British airspace opening up again, even for planes from that former no-fly-zone – Iraq.

The fact that a passenger flight flew from Bahgdad to Britain for the first time in 20 years has been heavily reported this week. Fine. But if the subtext to this event is supposed to be “Oh, look, things ARE getting better in Iraq” – forget it.

Amnesty’s new report on the targeting of civilians in Iraq makes it abundantly clear that, if anything, Iraq has slipped back into even more violence since the elections last month. Certainly what Amnesty researchers have found is that particular people – Christians, ethnic minorities, journalists, women and girls labelled “immoral”, and men perceived to be gay – have been singled out by groups like the Mahdi Army.

Read some of the chilling details here. Suffice it to say – if you’re a gay man in Baghdad, a Christian in Mosul or an independently-minded woman in Basra – you’re likely to receive death threats (bullets in the post, that kind of thing). To put it bluntly, death will be stalking you. And if relatives decide that you should die because you’ve “shamed” the family with your relationship or lifestyle, Article 128 of the Penal Code provides for lenient sentences, seeing these as “honour” crimes. Meanwhile, Muslim clerics are pretty much free to whip up hatred with impunity.

Hmm. Some kind of normal, eh? Actually, the famous flight this week was not, strictly speaking, the first non-military flight between the UK and Iraq during the last two decades. For example, last October the UK took 44 unsuccessful Iraqi asylum applicants back to Baghdad, insisting – against UNHCR and Amnesty advice – that it was safe to do so.

It was a fiasco. The Iraqi authorities apparently hadn’t been informed and armed security officials reportedly boarded the plane to try to get it to go back. In the end it did, with all but 10 of its passengers being brought back to Britain. So much for “tough” – but un-thought-out – asylum policies. (And, frighteningly enough, thousands of Iraqis in the UK are stuck in this didn't-get-asylum-and-at-risk-of-return-to-the-Iraqi-mayhem limbo).

Recently the Iraqi vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, has even had to resort to urging European governments to stop trying to send asylum-seekers back to Iraq during the current security crisis.

I don’t think Ryanair will be flying to Baghdad any time soon …


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