Iraqi envoy summoned over jailed Britons

BRITAIN yesterday summoned an Iraqi envoy to urge Baghdad to release two Britons serving long sentences in Iraqi jails, saying the release of an American held for only two days on similar charges exposed the 'ludicrous sentences' meted out against the two.

Zuhir Ibrahim, the head of the Iraqi Interest Section in London, had what was described as 'an extremely tough meeting' with David Gore-Booth, the assistant under-secretary of state for the Middle East. The meeting was the latest attempt by Britain to win the freedom of Paul Ride and Michael Wainwright, sentenced to seven and 10 years in prison respectively for allegedly entering Iraq illegally.

Mr Ibrahim was told that the detention of the two had 'direct implications' for the continuing of international sanctions against Iraq, since Britain had raised the cases at the United Nations as examples of Iraq's poor humanitarian record. The release of Chad Hall, a US munitions expert, had further highlighted the disproportionate sentences against the two.

Following Mr Hall's release, the families of the two Britons accused the Government of not doing enough. A British official said the United States had succeeded in getting its national out largely because it knew about his detention 'the moment it happened', and that he 'never got into the Iraqi system'. Mr Ride, on the other hand, had been missing from his Kuwait home for weeks before British officials in Amman received reports of his detention. The case of Mr Wainwright was 'even worse'; he was arrested on a cycling tour in April, but not until his uncle received a letter from him in August did it transpire he was being held in Iraq.

The Russian embassy had been 'extremely helpful' in obtaining the right to visit the two Britons twice a month to pass on letters and food parcels and check on the prisoners' health. Britain was also liaising with Sweden, three of whose nationals have been jailed for seven years for 'illegal entry'.