Patrick Cockburn: Deaths show how lethally dangerous Iraq remains

Related Topics

The death of two of the British hostages in Iraq, if confirmed, shows what a lethally dangerous country it remains.

Only 10 days ago it seemed likely a deal was being struck under which five Britons would be exchanged for a senior Shia militia leader and his followers.

The breakthrough appeared to be the freeing of Laith al-Khazali, a leader of Asaib al-Haq, an Iranian-backed militia group. Iraqi and American officials confirmed that an agreement was being worked out whereby Asaib al-Haq would join the political mainstream and hand over heavy weapons in return for its leaders being transferred by the Americans to the Iraqi government, which would free them.

The most important figure who would have been released under the deal was Qais al-Khazali, the brother of Laith and leader of Asaib al-Haq, who was detained by British forces in Basra in March 2007.

In retaliation, Peter Moore, a British computer expert, and four British guards were seized in a raid by men dressed in police uniforms on the Finance Ministry in Baghdad in May 2007.

Groups such as al-Qa'ida in Iraq have frequently killed their hostages in order to spread terror. The kidnapping of the five Britons was clearly aimed at securing the release of the Shia militants and an important member of Lebanese Hizbollah who had been assisting them.

The difficulty in arranging any exchange was compounded by the belief of the US military that the Khazali brothers had masterminded an attack on a base in Kerbala early in 2007 in which five US soldiers were killed.

At the time of the brothers' arrest, the US said they had documents containing detailed military information about the US camp. Several of the American soldiers who died had been captured and later killed, suggesting that this may have been an attempt to acquire US hostages that went wrong.

Both the attack on the base at Kerbala and the raid on the Finance Ministry in Baghdad were expertly organised, implying the involvement of Iranian-trained Special Groups. The Iranian participation, though difficult to pin down, appeared to make it less likely that the hostages would be killed.

The fact that two of the hostages are dead was a secret well-kept in Baghdad, though there had been an earlier report that one of them, named Jason, had committed suicide.

An Iraqi source said the release of Qais al-Khazali could be expected soon because the US was handing over all its prisoners to the Iraqi government under the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement (SODA), which was signed by the US and Iraq last year.

The source added that the US was expected to release by the end of the month the so-called "Arbil Five", five Iranian officials captured in a controversial US helicopter raid on the Kurdish capital, Arbil, in early 2007.

The freeing of the Iranian officials, long demanded by Tehran, was described by the source as one of a series of measures taken by the Obama administration to reduce tension with Iran.

However, the release of the Iranian officials may have been blown off course by the crisis in Tehran.

It has never been clear where Mr Moore and the four other British captives were being held; there was some suspicion that they had been moved to Iran.

Qais al-Khazali was originally a spokesman for the movement of the Shia anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, before breaking away to lead Asaib al-Haq, but the group's connection to the rest of the Sadrist movement was always cloudy. The kidnappers sought to keep their demands in the public eye by releasing four videos, in one of which the suicide of "Jason" is mentioned.

A further sign of how dangerous Iraq remains, despite some recent improvements in security, came yesterday when a truck bomb exploded outside a Shia mosque in the town of Taza, south of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. The blast killed at least 55 people and wounded 200 as they left the mosque at the end of prayers.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - South West

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Administrator - IT - Fixed Term, Part Time

£17340 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Come and join one of the UK's leading ca...

Recruitment Genius: Property Sales Consultant - Chinese Speaking - OTE £70,000

£18000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity for a Fluent Chines...

Recruitment Genius: AV Installation Engineer

£27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to business growth, this is...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Refugees try to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia, near Gevgelija, on Wednesday. The town sits on the ‘Balkan corridor’ used by refugees, mostly from Syria, to travel from Turkey to Hungary, the gateway to the EU  

The UK response to the plight of Syrian refugees is a national embarrassment

Kevin Watkins
The provincial capital of Idlib, Syria, which fell to al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra last week  

'I was sure I’d be raped or killed. I was terrified': My life as a gay Syrian refugee who had to flee Isis

Subhi Nahas
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent