Leading article: A mishandled hostage crisis and Iraq's uncertain future

The Foreign Office's policy of media blackout looks misguided

Share
Related Topics

The torment of the families of five Britons taken hostage two years ago in Iraq can only be guessed at. Earlier this month, hopes rose of a breakthrough after the release by American forces of a senior Shia militia leader linked to the kidnappers. But then, on Saturday, came the crushing news that the bodies of two of the hostages had been handed over to the British embassy in Iraq. The identification of the bodies yesterday at least brings some sense of closure to two anguished families. But the awful uncertainty surrounding the fate of the other three continues.

These grim developments add to the growing sense that the Foreign Office's decision to impose a media blackout on reporting of this kidnapping was misguided. The silence might have served some purpose in the immediate aftermath of the hostage-taking when a quick negotiated release might have been possible. But when it became clear that the kidnappers were prepared to dig in, public appeals could have applied valuable pressure. Uncomfortable questions arise too from the alleged influence of GardaWorld, a Canadian security company, on the Foreign Office's strategy.

Just as the agony of these families continues, recent days demonstrate that Iraq's pain is also far from over. A truck bomb on Saturday killed 73 and wounded 200, in the deadliest attack the country has witnessed this year. Levels of violence have fallen in recent months, but at least 1,678 Iraqis, civilians and security personnel have, nevertheless, been killed since January.

The target of this latest bombing was a Shia mosque in the town of Taza, 10 miles south of Kirkuk. Iraqi government officials suspect this of being an attempt by al-Qa'ida to re-ignite the sectarian bloodletting that almost tore the country apart two years ago. If such fears are confirmed, it will serve as a reminder that, while that fanatical alliance is not the force it was, it still has the ability to inflict mass casualties.

The location of this attack – oil-rich Kirkuk – also highlights one of the political fault lines in the country. The Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki has set public spending levels based on the assumption of a high and sustained international oil price. Global energy prices have picked up in recent months, but remain well below what the government had budgeted for, leaving it facing a potential financial crisis.

Prime Minister Maliki's government urgently needs to raise production levels. This explains the expected award in the coming weeks of long-term contracts to international firms to develop Iraq's large oil fields. But this is creating political tension, with opponents of Mr Maliki arguing that opening the door to foreign companies will curtail the country's future economic independence.

Considerable uncertainty hangs over the future of Iraq. British troops have handed over the control of Basra to American forces. And US troops are due to complete their pull-out of Iraqi cities by the end of this month, ahead of a complete withdrawal by 2011. But there are concerns about the ability of the Iraqi army and police to fill the security vacuum this is creating. A political crisis cannot be ruled out either. If the scenarios come together, the dark days could yet return.

Iraq has been heading in the right direction. But we underestimate, at our peril, the potential for the bloodshed to begin again.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Critics of Fiona Woolf say she should step down amid accusations of an establishment cover-up  

Fiona Woolf resignation: As soon as she became the story, she had to leave

James Ashton
 

Letters: Electorate should be given choice on drugs policy

Independent Voices
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes