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Our very own Mukhabarat?

In the summer of 1994, when I was visiting my Iraqi cousins in Baghdad, I told them the story of the accidental death by hanging of Stephen Milligan MP in an auto-erotic incident involving self-strangulation and drugs. Their immediate response was to ask in disbelief: “Why did they kill him like that?”

From then on, no prurient musings over the affairs of other prominent Tories could shake their conviction that he had been assassinated, and in an intentionally humiliating way.

Their cynicism was understandable, and not just because of their unfamiliarity with the more idiosyncratic predilections of British politicians. After all, we had just visited the monument to Saddam Hussein’s brother-in-law, General Adnan Khairallah, a popular military man who died in a suspicious helicopter crash five years earlier.

Eight years later, shortly before the US invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi Mukhabarat (secret police) announced that “terrorist mastermind” Abu Nidal had committed suicide rather than face arrest.

This Palestinian mercenary – who sold his services in turn to Syria’s Hafez Asad, to Saddam, and to Libya’s dictator Gaddafi – supposedly entered the country on a fake Yemeni passport, and was accused of involvement in a Kuwaiti-linked coup plot.

A running joke had it that he shot himself five times in the head, just to be absolutely sure.

So I could understand my cousins’ scepticism over Milligan. And whatever the real cause of Milligan’s death, they might well have been right on one thing – that what is truly ridiculous is the British assumption that “our own” Mukhabarat would never do anything so dastardly as to kill someone and cover it up.

And yet security related corpses just keep popping up in circumstances that are difficult to explain. Many doctors still fail to understand how Dr David Kelly killed himself. An MI5 agent was recently found dead in his flat due to “auto-erotic over-exertion”. And Wikileaks have added to claims that MI5 were at least complicit in the 1989 assassination of republican solicitor Pat Finucane.

As the Iraq war inquiry and the Wikileaks revelations have shown, our rulers do a pretty good job of lying to us most of the time. So just how much should we believe of what they tell us about anything else?

The most stupid thing is to imagine that murdering secret police is something that only happens to other people.

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