Letters: Iraqi loyalty

The majority of Iraqis are loyal to their country, not to their sect
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Mr Shehab says that present-day Iraq's creation was made in "too much haste 80 years ago". He seems to overlook the fact that Iraq existed as a country and a centre of power long before this. It was a state in ancient times under Babylonians and Assyrians, and during the Abbaside period Baghdad was the capital of an Islamic empire. Even under the Ottoman Empire, the three wilayets of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul were administered as one unit under the wali of Baghdad.

His second reason for advocating the break-up of Iraq is the threat of civil war. Indeed the situation in Iraq is dangerous, due to factors such as its continued foreign occupation without a definite withdrawal date, and the deterioration of public order. However, unlike Lebanon, Iraq in its long history has never witnessed a civil war. Its Shia and Sunni communities have always lived together in harmony and peace. One can hardly find an extended Sunni family where none of its members is not married to a Shia, and vice versa.

Breaking up Iraq requires a consensus that neither exists among Iraqis nor among Iraq's neighbouring states. The Shias, despite their religious ties with the people of Iran, have never shown any willingness to become Iranian subjects or accept Iranian domination. The Sunnis of Iraq, despite their apparent newly developed fear of Shia domination, have more common interest with Iraq's Shias than with any neighbouring Sunnis. As for the Kurds, indeed many of them long to have a state for the whole Kurdish population in the area, but will Turkey, Iran or Syria allow their Kurdish regions to secede to form greater Kurdistan?

Finally it is interesting that, notwithstanding his advocacy of the break up of Iraq, Mr Shehab still considers himself an "Iraqi descendent of Shia and Sunni families". Indeed the allegiance of the vast majority of Iraqis is towards their country rather their sect. Hence, the only realistic hope for Iraq lies in its unity rather than in factionalism and sectarianism.



Stop this wicked trade in wild birds

Sir: So bird flu has hit Britain, not from the skies full of migrating birds, not from the sneeze of a fellow human being, but straight through the open door of Defra's net! ("Dead parrot did have killer strain of bird flu", 24 October).

It raises the question of why we are still importing wild birds from far-flung countries and why this nefarious trade wasn't stopped at the first whisper of bird flu. Another question is a moral one; why are we importing wild birds in the first place? Would we agree to capture any of our native birds - perhaps the odd nightingale, or the very rare Montagu's harrier (which the RSPB spends so much money trying to protect) - for export?

Now Defra is saying that we poultry keepers might need to shut our birds away in the near future. Well, that's fine, but how is Defra going to track down all the backyard poultry keepers with just a few chickens, ducks and geese? We have been smallholders for the last 30 years and are registered with Defra and have our own unique holding number, but we do not receive any relevant information direct from the Department. It all has to be picked up from the media or other livestock owners.

So if Defra can't find us, how are they going to track down all those who are not registered and who continue to move their livestock around without constraint, and who may be totally ignorant of the "movement orders" that are required?



Sir: It is of great concern, though little surprise, that avian flu has been detected in a parrot brought into the UK for the pet trade.

For some time animal welfare and conservation organisations have been calling for a permanent end to the EU's trade in wild birds. We believe that it is now time for the UK Government and Scottish Executive to tackle the trade in all exotic animals as pets. This trade is rapidly growing out of control, largely because of the increasing number of animals being traded and because the trade is mainly unregulated. Both wild-caught and captive-bred exotic animals often carry diseases that are potentially dangerous to humans and other animals.

We also believe that a prohibition should be placed on the sale of all pets, especially exotic animals, from temporary premises or at day or other short-term events. It is simply not possible to maintain and enforce suitable standards of health and welfare at temporary sales in a makeshift environment.

The UK Government and Scottish Executive are currently in a prime position to take effective action to address both of these concerns through the new Animal Welfare Bills.



The police and firearms training

Sir: If, while walking on the street, I heard someone shout "armed police, do not move" or similar, my natural reaction would be to look and see who was being shouted at. Even if the uniformed, armed police officer was standing directly in front and pointing a gun at me from 10 feet away I would probably either look behind me to see who the officer was aiming at or try to get out of the way. It would never occur to me that I was the object of the officer's request.

Could someone reassure us that police officers trained to use firearms are also specifically trained to recognise when an innocent person minding their own business has been wrongly identified as carrying a weapon? If they are not, then there would surely be a case for corporate manslaughter charges against whoever designed the firearms training.

It would also be useful to know how many times armed officers have been called upon to deal with such people and not shot them over the same period of time as the list of 30 killings you recently published ("Shot by police", 21 October) , to provide a more balanced picture.



Sir: Your irresponsible front page implied that the 30 people shot by the police had died unlawfully.

Parliament has agreed that our society requires an armed response in certain circumstances. In two thirds of the cases featured you state that the person who died was carrying something resembling a lethal or replica weapon. In some of those cases the police marksmen probably saved innocent lives.

Officers in the police service are required to place their lives at risk every day, in our name, and then find themselves vilified for doing so. In the interests of fair debate, would you be so kind as to publish the details of the many police officers who have been casualties as a result of the work they do for us. Names on such a list might include PC Yvonne Fletcher, PC Keith Blakelock QGM, DC Stephen Oake, DC Michael Swindells and PC Phillip Olds QGM



A call to join battle against the 4x4s

Sir: David Culver suggested that the reason for the proliferation of 4x4s might be the state of the nation's roads (letter, 17 October). I would suggest that the reason is ego and would argue that if David is concerned about the state of the roads then he could join the battle against 4x4s in urban centres.

Ninety-five per cent of these vehicles are never driven off road; they are more likely to be involved in accidents (insurance-industry figures from Churchill and Admiral show that urban 4x4s are involved in 25 per cent more accidents than saloon cars); they are twice as likely to kill people when they hit them (US Highways Agency research) and emit twice as much carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen dioxide as passenger cars (Vehicle Certification Agency).

The Vehicle Emissions Duty currently only charges an additional £40 per year for a difference between an A and C car range. This comes nowhere near reflecting the damage they cause. I am unsure how an additional £40 a year is likely to deter those spending over £13,000 for a 4x4.

Government action on reducing climate change is lagging behind its rhetoric. In the face of this, I applaud your leading article (15 October) for pointing out how ludicrous 4x4s are in urban centres. Even Jeremy Clarkson comments that their use in urban areas is "insane". It is very hard to disagree with that.



Ladies, gentlemen, and all the rest

Sir: Jemima Lewis is perhaps more daring than she realises in tackling the ladies/women issue (Opinion, 21 October).

As a National Serviceman in the 1950s, I first heard the phrase "Officers' ladies, sergeants' wives, and other ranks' women", and have hesitated a split second before using either word ever since.

I suspect that there are still many females in Britain whose hackles will rise if they are referred to as "women", but just as many who hate being talked of as "ladies". What is a man, who is not a gentleman, to do?



If we condemn Syria, why not the US too?

Sir: The USA and its allies are seeking to condemn Syria over allegations related to the death of the former Lebanese President Rafik Hariri (report, 20 October). It is small wonder that much of the world talks in terms of double standards when it is now clear that the CIA was deeply involved, for example, in the assassination of President Allende of Chile and the many attempts to kill President Castro. The slaughter of villagers in Vietnam, Iraq and the rest is not viewed with the same self-righteous horror as the deaths caused by the Nazis in, say, a French village. Although I would expect Iraqis to think about US activities in such a way. And it seems they do.



Keep the law out of supermarkets

Sir: David Prosser ("At last its time to bring lawyers to book", 22 October) is wrong if he believes that allowing Tesco or Asda to provide legal services will open them up to the public. These supermarkets will not want to offer matrimonial or criminal services reliant on legal aid as this work is unprofitable and burdened with soul-destroying government bureaucracy. They will "cherry pick" work. Anyone with a controversial case will be denied services.

The Government is keen to reward its corporate donors with legal work, but the result will be that finding a legal-aid lawyer will soon be like finding an NHS dentist: all-but impossible.



Climate change: put this House in order

Sir: Clearly, as our planet faces the very grave threat of climate change, it is imperative that we cut without delay our carbon emissions which are fuelling it (report and leading article, 24 October). Cutting the amount of energy we waste unnecessarily can make a big contribution to these efforts, but we cannot expect businesses and individuals to clean up their act without political leadership from the front. Sadly, when it comes to our national parliament, we seem to be going backwards.

Figures I released last week show that, on the parliamentary estate itself, electricity consumption has risen by a massive 45 per cent since 1997, as appliances, from office equipment and nearly 2,000 TV sets, to escalators and lighting, are left on through the night and over weekends. How can we expect the rest of the country to listen to us as MPs and act to cut their unnecessary energy consumption, unless we do so ourselves?



Embassy profiteering

Sir: The US Embassy refuses to pay London's congestion charge claiming it to be a tax and therefore inapplicable to diplomats who are exempt from local taxation. Contrast this approach with that of the Embassy in respect of telephone calls to, for example, the Visa Section from would-be visitors to the US. These are premium-rate calls charged at £1.30 per minute. Now that may not constitute a tax but it most certainly looks like profiteering at the expense of the inhabitants of the country that the President has called America's closest friend and ally.



'British' royals

Sir: What, in number five of Ten Questions on 24 October, does Sean O'Grady mean by "British"? Richard III was indeed the last English king to die on the battlefield (at Bosworth in 1485), but Scotland's James IV perished at the battle of Flodden in 1513, 28 years later.



Revolting against Tesco

Sir: I have made the decision to not buy anything from Tesco unless there is no other choice when away from home ("Small retailers revolt over the Tesco-isation of the high street," 19 October). I have also decided to spend at least £10 per week outside my supermarket of choice, in the most excellent local meat, fish and delicatessen shops we have here in Reading. If many other people did the same in other towns across the UK the survival of the local shop would be assured.



Tory leadership contest

Sir: A General Election campaign to elect nearly 650 MPs, and involving nearly 30 million voters, is conducted in 17 working days. Why does the Conservative Party need six weeks for its 300,000 members to choose between just two candidates?



An erotic education

Sir: Howard Jacobson's article about his researches into the works of the Marquis de Sade (Opinion, 22 October) reminds me of an anecdote I was told when I joined the staff of the library of the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1956. It concerned a copy of Eduard Fuchs' restricted-access work Erotische Kunst which had once been issued to a man claiming to be a serious student. After he had been reading it for some time, the librarian peered out at him from behind the book-issue counter and said: "He's not a serious student! He's enjoying it!"