It has been a year since a group of armed Iraqis, disguised as police, burst into the Finance Ministry in Baghdad and seized five Britons. Little was known of the kidnappers, who called themselves the Islamic Shia Resistance, and little has been heard since their abduction of the hostages. Apart from two videos, which included a threat that one man would be killed if British troops were not withdrawn from Iraq, little has been heard of the captives. Their names have not been released. Their families have not appeared on television. Their plight remains largely unknown. It is little wonder that, in the words of one of the men named only as Jason, the hostages feel that they have been “forgotten”.
The publicity blackout is deliberate. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office insisted from the start that this low-key approach would make negotiations easier and was less likely to jeopardise the men’s lives. One year on, it is time for the diplomats to think again. …
Undoubtedly the vigorous and admirable campaign mounted by the BBC in support of Alan Johnston, its correspondent in Gaza, played a key role in turning Palestinian opinion against his kidnappers and stepping up the efforts on the ground to locate him. Kidnappers seize people either for publicity or for money. Those counting on the publicity – the threats, the violence, the videos and the deadlines – hope that their brutality will intimidate their enemies, bolster their standing and demonstrate their ideological commitment. But if there is no subsequent publicity, the hostages lose their value to their captors. Men callous enough to use such tactics have little compunction in killing diminishing assets.
There is a further obvious reason why the softly-softly approach has made little headway. The Foreign Office no longer carries any clout within Iraq. Britain’s diminished military role and its self-effacing political influence have given militants intent on driving out Westerners little reason to fear or to heed reaction in London. The hostages have become instead pawns in the drive by the Iraqi Government to establish its authority and crack down on gangs and militias. In such a climate, it is vital that these men are not forgotten.
In related news, apparently the British press are capable of keeping their mouths shut about more than Prince Harry’s 8-week stint in Afghanistan. Astonishing.