While the United States has been the principal member of Multinational Forces-Iraq (now U.S. Forces-Iraq), many have countries sent military forces over the years. The average size of these contingents was in the hundreds, with the exception of the United Kingdom, which deployed roughly 45,000 troops at its peak.
British and Coalition Forces found themselves struggling with the same linguistic hurdles, and soon employed Iraqis in the same fashion as the United States. The dangers faced by these Iraqis were similarly lethal; the militias and terrorist groups did not discriminate between one occupying force and another when targeting ‘collaborators.’
Amidst souring public opinion back home on the war, each of these countries initiated withdrawal plans. We look here to the lessons of their withdrawal:
Great Britain – 2007-2008
As the United Kingdom initiated its withdrawal in late 2006, first pulling back from Basrah in Southern Iraq, there was a similar absence of forethought regarding Iraqi interpreters who had worked for British forces. The British public simply wanted to get out of Iraq, a war that had turned deeply unpopular.
A power vacuum opened up as the UK departed, and different militias stepped into a void that anemic Iraqi Security Forces were unable to fill. The consequences were tragic: a systematic manhunt for British-affiliated Iraqis ensued, and in a single incident, 17 interpreters were assassinated in a mass execution. Their bodies were strewn throughout the streets of Basrah as a message to other Iraqis aiding British forces.
Outrage spilled from the British press and public, and the newly-elected Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that Britain would review its [non]policy. In August 2007, Brown announced that Britain would embrace its commitment to locally-engaged staff in Iraq. The policy called for British-affiliated Iraqis meeting certain criteria to choose between two options: (1) permanent resettlement in Britain for a minimum of 12 months, or (2) a one-time financial package, determined by their salary, time employed, and number of dependents, if they remained in Iraq. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) followed in October with detailed criteria and the mechanics of the plan.
After the FCO came under withering criticism for restrictive application of the government’s plan, an initial 600 British-affiliated Iraqis and their families were resettled to England. Importantly, resettlement did not take the shape of a year long process, requiring Iraqis to survive long enough to see safety. The British implemented airlifts, beginning in April 2008, directly from Basrah to a Royal Air Force base in Oxfordshire, England.
The British example reflects the tragic consequences when withdrawal plans don’t consider local employees. However, the steps taken by Brown demonstrate the possibilities when a Prime Minister or President recognize and direct authorities to uphold a national moral imperative.
Denmark – 2007
Denmark, which had a much smaller contingent of forces, had the benefit of learning from the mistakes committed by the United Kingdom. With a withdrawal scheduled by August 2007, the Danes proactively airlifted their Iraqi employees before militias and other groups had the opportunity to carry out any manhunts. In July 2007, the Danish government secretly airlifted some 200 Iraqi interpreters and employees, based on “concern for the interpreters and their families’ security as well as the security of the Danish base in Iraq.” Following the successful operation, Denmark announced its expectation that it would grant full asylum to the allies. Currently, 370 Danish-affiliated Iraqis have been resettled.
The signal we want to send is that we of course take care of our employees if the business they have been doing for us is putting them into danger: Danish military spokesman Lt-Cdr Nils Markussen.
Poland – 2008
Poland, which had approximately 2,500 troops at its peak, was scheduled to withdraw its forces from Iraq by October 2008. Building on the successful precedent set by Denmark and the eventual British airlift, the Polish government offered all of their Iraqi employees either full resettlement or a one-time payment of $40,000 if they remained in Iraq.