Tributes to Sunderland security worker shot dead in Iraq

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TRIBUTES have been paid to a Wearside dad shot dead in Iraq.

Phil Harris was killed in the crisis-hit city of Erbil in Northern Iraq, following a night out with friends.

The 37-year-old, of Red House, Sunderland, had worked in the security industry in the war-torn country for a number of years, although was not believed to have been employed in the sector at the time of his death.

Kristian Nicholson, 39, who was with Mr Harris in the hours before he was killed, says his friend was shot after mistakenly walking into the wrong villa in the city.

For more than a month, Erbil has been under attack from Islamic terrorists who have murdered thousands of refugees throughout the province. However, it is understood Mr Harris’s death is not being treated, either at a local or international level, as a terrorist-related incident.

Mr Nicholson said he had been out for dinner with Mr Harris and a friend on August 21. They had left each other at about 9.30pm, with Mr Nicholson later being informed by the consulate that his friend had been shot and killed at around 11.30pm.

He added: “I understand he entered the wrong villa when he was shot.

“I think there is an investigation ongoing but know no details at the minute.

“It was an honour and pleasure to know Phil. He was the only person who made sure I was ok after I had a road traffic accident and subsequent loss of employment, and on a daily basis no matter where in the world he was.

“I still expect him to come barging into my room at stupid-o’clock full of energy. His generosity was unbelievable.”

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokesperson said: “We were informed of the death of a British national in Erbil on 21 August. We are providing consular assistance at this difficult time.”

The FCO is understood to be in touch with Mr Harris’s family on Wearside. His body was flown home this week.

Mr Nicholson, a former RAF interpreter and security specialist, first met Mr Harris when they were working together in Basra in 2011.

Earlier this month, Mr Nicholson had hoped to return to his home and family in Hull this month, but Kurdish authorities have been uncooperative in returning his passport.

Erbil is the largest city and capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. For months, the Kurds have been lobbying the international community for help to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria (ISIS).

Residents say the threat from ISIS has led to increasing safety concerns for those living in the city.