The first of the hostages held in the Gulf for four-and-a-half months have arrived in Britain after their release by Saddam Hussein. A total of 100 British hostages were freed and landed at Heathrow airport today with the promise of a further 400 to follow.
The Foreign Office expects all those held since Iraq invaded Kuwait in August to be home by the weekend. Former Prime Minister Edward Heath, who went to Baghdad in October for talks with the Iraqi leader, has been credited with securing the release of the hostages.
There were long queues at Baghdad airport today as Iraqi officials cooperated in validating the passports of the freed men and women.
Many had been warned to expect a wait of up to 10 days. British diplomat Julian Lyons said: “We were not sure at the time how long it would take to get the flights together. “We thought it was best to give people bad news at the first step.”
The long process raised fears among passengers they would not travel after having had their hopes dashed before. Released hostage David Eddy said: “We had another day when we came up here when Mr Tony Benn [MP] was scheduled to come in.
“He came – he met us – we thought we were on a homeward ticket. “As soon as he left the hotel we were shipped out very callously, it was a hard day.”
There were reports from the British embassy in Baghdad that increased surveillance by Iraqi authorities was holding up the process of repatriation.
But after an agonizing wait the first group was released and travelled via Frankfurt where travelers celebrated with champagne.
Medical officials and social service personnel were on hand to offer advice and guidance on their return to London – where they landed to cheers and applause.
Foreign nationals in the Gulf were forced into hiding after being caught in Kuwaiti City, the country’s capital, after the Iraqi invasion.
Others were used as so called “human shields” and were impounded at strategic positions such as power stations and military bases.
Courtesy BBC News
It emerged in 2001 the Attorney General had referred a case to the police about British hostage-taking at the start of the Gulf War.
London-based organisation Indict spent five years compiling evidence of alleged war crimes and brutality by the Iraqi leadership.
A criminal case would focus on the plight of the 4,500 British citizens and thousands of people from other countries who were held hostage in the Gulf at the time.
It could eventually have led to a war crimes indictment against the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, and his deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz.
But it was thought unlikely they would ever have been extradited for a trial before an international court.
Saddam Hussein was toppled from power in April 2003 during the US-led invasion of Iraq. He was subsequently captured after several months in hiding in December 2003. He was tried in an Iraqi court, sentenced to death and executed in December 2006.
I was there
I’d been in Iraq as a human shield “guest” since early September. We were waiting at the Melia Mansour hotel, having been bussed in from the hydroelectric plant the day before. The night before the British liaison team, soldiers that had been in Kuwait pre-invasion, held a small concert in the bar in front of a 50+ crowd of very drunken former “guests”.
Some of us had hard cash to buy some beers, most made do with a home brewed hooch, some kind of distilled spirit that the army must teach. We went out on 11 December, I think.
I was the first person to step off the Iraqi Airways charter to Gatwick. I couldn’t stop myself crying as I reached the bottom of the steps to the aircraft. I was 24, and have since enjoyed the time to build a successful career. Most others were in their 40s and 50s. Many have since been unable to pick up after almost five months, a traumatic time and a nasty recession.
Barry Manners, Dorset