Page last updated at 23:01 GMT, Monday, 13 July 2009 00:01 UK

Iraqis to sue UK for compensation

By Angus Crawford
BBC News


More than 20 Iraqis who worked for the British are to sue the Government

More than 20 Iraqis who worked for British forces are to sue the UK government, the BBC has learned.

Most were interpreters, who say they were not given adequate protection from attack by extremist militias.

They claim they were owed a duty of care, and later this week will begin their legal actions in a bid to gain compensation from the UK.

The government says it has helped hundreds of Iraqis settle in the UK through an assistance scheme.

It also says "many thousands" of Iraqis have worked for British forces since 2003.

Some became targets for local militias who saw them as collaborators.

As the security situation deteriorated some were murdered, others fled to Syria and Jordan, some went into hiding in southern Iraq.

[After] my loyal and faithful service to the British army, I am alone without any help

Jamal - not his real name - knew he couldn't go on working for the British after his best friend was killed.

"He was tortured, severe, merciless torture and was killed and thrown into a remote place," he said.

Jamal, who is 28, worked for the British army from March 2005 to December 2005, but now lives secretly in Basra. His says his family constantly worry about him.

"It was like a daily nightmare for them, whenever I was going out they were thinking of me, they were fearing and expecting the worst for me."

British soldiers on patrol
Iraqi interpreters often accompanied UK soldiers on patrol

Jamal now sees no option but to take legal action against the government which he feels let him down.

"I feel so disappointed. [After] my loyal and faithful service to the British army, I am alone without any help. It is devastating to me."

Legal action

Jassim - who also does not want to use his real name - decided he had to give up work and take his family to Syria because of the anonymous death threats he received on his mobile.

"They said 'we know where you are working, we know your house, we know what time you came into the base'," he said.

Both applied to come to Britain under the Locally Engaged Staff Assistance Scheme (LESAS), set up to help local staff employed by the British.

But neither had served continuously for 12 months, so their applications failed.

The two men, along with more than 20 others, are expected to start legal action this week to sue the government.

Sapna Malik is a partner at the solicitors Leigh Day and is co-ordinating the actions.

"The MoD could certainly have taken better steps to protect the identities of interpreters and in certain cases they should have housed the interpreters on the bases," she said.

There are 25 claims in total, and most of them are interpreters. Three are the wives or mothers of men who were murdered by militias.

Duty of care

She says the British government owed local staff a duty of care.

"Financial compensation will go a significant way to reduce the hardship they've been suffering.

"They are also hoping that this will help shape the policy if Britain gets involved in any future conflicts."

Resettled in the UK - 201 former and current employees
Total including dependents - 612
Rejected - 694

Two years ago the prime minister announced help for Iraqis who had served for a year - they were offered financial assistance or resettlement.

The scheme closed for former employees in May this year.

Of those eligible, 201 have come to Britain. Hundreds of others have taken the money. But almost seven hundred have been told they do not qualify.

The Foreign Secretary David Miliband praised the "dedication and commitment" of local staff in a recent statement.

"The scheme for assistance is designed to reflect our enduring debt to them. I am pleased it has proved popular and effective," he said.

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said: "We have made a decision to focus assistance on those staff who have had a sustained association with us in the most difficult circumstances."

"Wherever we draw the line, there will be difficult cases."

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