ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 9, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 15
Columns - Issue of the week  

Out of Basra, Iraq: Can Brown whitewash Britain’s black history?

By Ameen Izzadeen

History is being repeated in Iraq. British troops are finally leaving. It's their third such departure from Iraq in the past 100 years. Their previous two departures were ignominious, to say the least. This time around, they are leaving before a similar disgrace befalls them, but not before their country's international reputation was sullied. Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who took the country to war on trumped up charges against Saddam Hussein, the former dictator of Iraq, was lampooned as the poodle of US President George W. Bush. The lies and deception the Blair government resorted to justify its decision to join Bush's war now stand exposed. Blair claimed that Saddam possessed weapons that threatened the security of Britain and the West. He also said that these weapons could be assembled in 45 minutes.

A British army corporal lowers the Union Jack during a ceremony to mark transfer of control of a British military base in Basra. AP

Blair's claims were disproved one by one. Dr. David Kelly, a top scientist attached to Britain's Ministry of Defence, allegedly passed information to a BBC reporter, saying that the government had hyped the dossier against Iraq. Kelly knew what he was passing to the media. He did not want to be a part of the immoral war - that was not actually Britain's war. But within weeks of the BBC story, Dr. Kelly's body was found in a thicket. The official version was that Dr. Kelly committed suicide.

Unlike the Americans, a majority of Britons did not buy Bush's claim that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks. Most Americans had blind faith in Born-Again Bush, who is reported to have said he was simply carrying out God's commands. But a majority of the Britons did not want the war. They gathered in their millions in London to convey a loud message to Blair and Bush that they were opposed to the war. But the democracy practised by Blair is a no respecter of the voice of the people.

In the final analysis, Britain has achieved virtually nothing. Some 170 British soldiers paid with their lives in Iraq. The figure was much less than the number of soldiers Britain lost in its first two misadventures in Iraq - said to be in the region of several thousand.

Britain's links with Iraq harks back to the World War I plot formalized in the form of a secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, under which European imperial powers (read robbers or plunderers) -- Britain and France -- agreed to share West Asia after the Ottoman Turks were defeated.

Four years later, in terms of this agreement, Iraq came under Britain, with the League of Nations -- a tool of the imperialists, like the United Nations is today - providing a veneer of legitimacy. Iraq came under British mandate. So did Palestine. The difference was that in Iraq, the British installed a monarch, parachuted from Hijaz, Arabia. His name was Feisal, son of Hussein, Mecca's sheriff, who betrayed the Ottomans and helped Britain during World War I. While Feisal was showcased in a palace, the pro-British Iraqi elite handpicked by the imperialists dominated the government, carrying out orders they got from the British Colonial Office and the British High Commission in Baghdad.

When the Iraqis rose against their imperialist occupiers, they were brutally suppressed. The colonial officers used chemical weapons or poison gas to silence the resistance forever. But the western media highlight and re-highlight only Hitler's gassing of the Jews - and since 2003, Saddam' use of poison gas to kill the Kurds of Halabja. Saddam was ousted, hounded and hanged, but the imperial officers who committed similar war crimes in Iraq faced no trial.

Imperial Britain, in order to keep Iraq weak, dislodged Kuwait from Iraq and installed the pro-British al-Sabah family as the rulers there. What did the British get in return? Once again it boils down to oil, the accursed liquid - Hameem, the drink in hell -- that will never quench the thirst of greedy demons however much they partake of it.

There is a bridge over River Tigris, called the Martyrs' Bridge. It is where scores of Iraqi schoolgirls taking part in a popular uprising were gunned down along with hundreds of people. If there had been television shots taken and archived for posterity, we would have seen hardly a difference between the 1948 Tigris Bridge butchery and the 1989 Tiananmen Square slaughter. That was Iraqi history -also the history of imperial Britain, though many British history texts for schoolchildren will not have all the gory details.

But when British troops re-entered Iraq as Bush's auxiliary force, history was rekindled to remind them of the past. So the behaviour of the British troops was relatively better than that of the American soldiers. The shame of Abu Ghraib, the massacre in Haditha and the rape in Mahmoudiya were all associated with US troops. But this does not mean that all British soldiers and officers are 'gentlemen'. There is the infamous Baha Mousa case. Baha Mousa was a 26-year-old hotel receptionist. He was arrested by British soldiers, and he died in British custody, allegedly after he was tortured by his captors.

Initial investigations indicated that the British troops were told by pro-war Attorney General Lord Goldsmith that human rights laws did not apply there. A parliamentary committee is now investigating the allegations.

And there was this incident that is still shrouded in mystery. In September 2005, Iraqi police in Basra arrested two undercover British agents for allegedly transporting explosives and remote-control devices used to activate bombs. Whilst resisting arrest, the two Britons who were in Arab dress shot dead two Iraqi police officers. They were, however, overpowered and taken to a detention centre in Basra. But within minutes, British troops and tanks broke down the walls and freed the agents. It's a mystery todate why the British military top brass in Basra resorted to military action when they could have obtained the release by talking to Iraqi authorities. Were the two undercover British agents on a mission to plant bombs and blame it on one group or another?

Whatever it is, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been commended for displaying courage to disagree with Bush. Financially, Britain has gained not very much from Iraq. Most of the major contracts for Iraq's reconstruction have gone to US firms. Iraq's oil sector was America's exclusive domain. Whatever financial rewards Britain got as crumbs from Bush's table were not worth the risk British troops are exposed to in Iraq. So it decided to 'cut and run' as the London Independent had banner-headlined: Cut refers to cutting troops and run you know what.

Basra is now placed under the command of the Iraqi security forces. British troops have withdrawn to the Basra airport, readying for their departure, leaving the Americans seething over Brown's decision. With the British announcement, violence in Basra has ceased to a great degree. Now, isn't it time for others also to leave Iraq? A survey published by Reuters this week says a majority of the Iraqis want foreign troops out soon, while a BBC poll yesterday said 67 percent of the people surveyed in 22 countries favoured a US troop withdrawal from Iraq.

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