On the front page of the Times today, it appears that the UK is attempting to wriggle out of its commitments to Iraqi employees of the British Army, even as we’re preparing to leave Basra. Part of me wants to believe that this is a matter of bureaucratic callousness rather than anything else, but as Brad DeLong says, the Cossacks work for the Czar – if people in David Milliband’s department are trying to wriggle out of a commitment that David Milliband made, then they’re doing it because he told them to, or because he doesn’t care whether they do it or not.
The last time we had a discussion of this on Crooked Timber, it turned pretty ugly pretty quickly, but I’m prepared to have another go. The general obligations of a country which is carrying out a morally unjustified war of aggression to the locals of the country it is invading are set out pretty clearly in the relevant Geneva Conventions, but what special obligations exist to local employees?
Personally I think this is pretty cut and dried. On grounds of fairness, the invading power should not discriminate between its employees on grounds of nationality, so they have a duty to give local employees the same kind of protection against harm that they would one of their own citizens. On prudential grounds, it is fairly obvious that any country has a long-term interest in establishing a reputation for protecting its employees. I am not convinced by any of the arguments against, most of which seem to involve fairly empty assertions about whether people might have been accessories to war crimes, combined with a strange insouciance about whether these alleged offences should be prosecuted in a proper court, or enforced ad hoc by death squads.
If anyone wants to argue either side of the case, go ahead. If you end up being convinced by my view, then perhaps you’d care to express this opinion to the British government. As far as I can tell, the most effective means to doing this (by far – the difference to the next best alternative is orders of magnitude) is by writing a letter or email to your MP. Dan Hardie has got a lot of anecdotal evidence that these letters have made a big difference so far in preventing this issue from being swept under the rug. (Update: You could ask your MP to sign Early Day Motion 401, tabled by Lynne Featherstone MP, please).
Comments policy notice: Just to make it clear, although this is a genuine invitation to a discussion, it’s a sensitive issue and will be moderated with extreme prejudice. In particular, racial epithets won’t be tolerated any more than they are on other CT threads. I am not going to delete or disenvowel people just for using the word “traitor” or equivalent, but nor am I going to tolerate blatant trolling. In which context I remind readers that the requirement for a genuine email address with every comment is still there, and the fact that it’s not particularly consistently enforced is not something anyone should rely on.
 Albeit one that was probably legal within the strict terms of these things, which in my mind simply shows it’s already much easier to start a war than it ought to be.