Tuesday, May 03, 2005

There were two of them!

Last week, Winston alleged that a minister in Saddam Hussein's government was residing here. At first the government denied it, but does a thorough search of its records to make sure. As a result, a retired Iraqi diplomat, not a minister, was found and asked to leave the country. A slightly embarrassed government then announced that procedures would be changed and hoped that was the end of the matter.

Unfortunately it wasn't. The Immigration Department's "thorough search" did not extend to offshore applications. As a result, the government failed to find the person that Winston was actually referring to. A matter that was thought to be a minor balls-up now turns out to be a complete and utter train wreck.

The diplomat is said to have been Ambassador to both Bangladesh and Cuba. A quick google gives the name as one Muhammed Majmoud K. Al-Amili as the Iraqi Ambassador to Cuba that was appointed in 1999. The government won't give out his name on the spurious grounds that it could add weight to any claim for refugee status; this ignores the fact that the diplomat was seeking permanent residency not refugee status and the grounds for granting refugee status is justifiable fear of persecution in the home country, not having one's name bandied about in the news media of the intended host country. This may have been a feeble attempt at damage control but it's too late now. In any case, the diplomat was open about his country and former profession when applying for a visitor's permit but the immigration staff that processed his application did not consult their superiors about it.

The minister is said to be Amer Mahdi Alkhashali (aka Amer Mahdi Saleh Khashaly, the Minister for Agriculture and Agrarian Reform and a former delegate to the FAO and UNESCO (Baghdad). Winston claimed that he arrived a month ago on a UN passport which might be a garbled reference to his having been part of the FAO and UNESCO. Exactly when he was minister is yet unknown. Some people assume that since he was FAO delegate in the early 80s, that his ministerial career was over then. This seems unlikely to me as it assumes that third world politicians follow the European pattern taking up UN (or EU) careers after their own political career is dead and buried. Paul Swain says that he arrived on an Iraqi passport but his visitor's application was lodged offshore in the Bangkok Embassy (which has had a problem with corruption). Winston also states that the minister was seeking refugee status upon hearing about the Zaoui case but was given the brush-off by Zaoui's lawyers.

Neither of these men are thought to pose security risks (although that would mean hoping that the SIS would have its own methods of gathering information instead of relying on information provided by the Immigration service) and a search through the Duelfer report does not turn up their names but for the government to be blissfully unaware of such people with notorious associations being in the country does rather demolish my confidence in Helen's recent assurance that we are not a "soft touch" for terrorists.

As a result, the government is changing procedures for the second time in two days and conducting a search of all applications from high-risk countries over the past two years. I daresay a search ever further back might be profitable as Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden's Number Two (in both senses of the phrase), was rumoured to have visited New Zealand during the nineties.