Thursday, November 19, 2015

From Easington Colliery to Basra.

The area of Easington Colliery where I lived before I was sent to Basra in Iraq to undertake my National Service.

I was brought up at Easington Colliery on the east coast of County Durham. Before I was called up to undertake my National Service in the RAF in November 1954, I had never travelled any further south than York. That journey had been made two years earlier, when I had applied to be a railway clerk after leaving school. I then had to travel to the railway head office at York for an interview. It landed me a job which I then undertook covering passenger and parcels office work, mainly at Easington's neighbouring railway station which was at Horden Colliery. But it was a job that was to have bigger implications for my travels than I ever anticipated.

When I undertook my basic training in the RAF at West Kirby, I was interviewed by a Sergeant to help determine what form of work I should seek to undertake in the RAF. As I had been a railway clerk, he suggested that a position in a "Movement's Unit" might be appropriate. He pointed out that there was a large unit of this type at Hull.  I felt that would be ideal for me to be able travel home regularly. So that became my first and accepted option.

But amongst our Squadron at West Kirby where I did my basic training, I was the only person to then be sent straight overseas. For it was felt that I did not require any training for my post.  I could work and learn under a corporal who already was undertaking the tasks I needed to follow. These involved working closely with Iraqi State Railways in Basra.  RAF equipment and goods arrived at the port at Basra to then be sent by rail to Baghdad, from where they were collected by personnel from RAF Habbaniya to then be taken to their camp by road some 55 miles away. There were also regular (but limited numbers) of troop movements of those travelling by rail to and from Baghdad, which had to be catered for.  In English, I filled in arabic passenger forms and goods' notes. But no-one ever taught me any arabic. I just learnt what to put where, in English. The best I did was to understand arabic numerals. All the Iraqis I dealt with spoke English - including those who worked at our Movement's Unit which was situated on the banks of the Shat-el-Arab river. This included many Iraqis who undertook manual functions.

I regularly visited Basra railway station, its docks and its goods yards. Then when our Movement's Unit downsized, I also took up some similar clerical and organisation work with shipping companies, handling "Bills of Lading" relating to shipping merchandise.

Not only did the RAF fail to facilitate (or even encourage) us to learn arabic; no-one ever explained why it was that we were in Iraq. Furthermore, we were just a small movements unit with many of us being only 18 to 20 as we were undertaking our National Service. I shared areas of accommodation with those up to the rank of corporal and we socialised. But those in higher ranks lived a separate existence. Even our cricket team only contained two sergeants (which may, however, have been a fair proportion), the rest being entirely from lower ranks - including myself as the scorer and standby.  No one I ever came across used their holiday breaks to visit historical sites such as the Ziggurat of Ur, which was less than 100 miles away - although officers might well have done this unknown to us. But we only communicated with high ups in relation to our duties. Nor was information made available to tell us that Iraq covered land which had been the cradle of civilisation. Neither was there today's modern technology to click into, which can be used as a form of self-education. It was not for us to ask where we were, nor what we were doing there.

Yet my time in Iraq helped to transform my life. When I left Britain, I initially had a six day stay in the canal zone in Egypt,  I then boarded a flight to Habbaniya; via Jordon where we landed late at night and saw little but a landing strip, desert and the inside of a large reception tent.  At Habbaniya, I stayed for a period to undertake a weapons' course run by the  RAF Regiment. This gave me time to spend a weekend at the YMCA in Baghdad, travelling via Fallujah. Then when I finally travelled by rail from Baghdad to Basra, the train was delayed as we were due to pull out of the south of the Iraqi capital. I was looking out of the window at a scene which seemed to me to be from an ancient world. Everything was made out of mud. Mud houses, mud walls, mud walkways, open sewers cut into the baked mud, with a drinking well close by. Men and women were neatly and cleanly dressed in the Muslim tradition, with children playing beside them. But this was a world I had never glimpsed nor thought about before in a modern context. It came to have a huge impact upon me.

Mud houses in Iraq

Later in the dock area in Basra, I observed heavily exploited labour at work. For instance, men were bent double carrying what were huge (and now old-fashioned) commercial refrigerators on their backs. Manual labour still often being a substitute for the technology of that age.

A double question began to pray upon my mind. How could God and man allow such things to happen? Matters of a philosphical and political bent were emerging for a thinly educated young man. These would help to reshape my values, self-studies and key interests. But life at the Movements Unit with regular weekly trips into Basra town centre, gave me the false impression that Iraq was a place of peace and tranquility. The first seven sections in the previous item on this blog (click here) cover a brief military history of Britain's involvement in the area over the 41 years before I arrived in Iraq. When I now reflect that it is 60 years since I arrived in Basra; the preceding period of 41 years seems to be a relatively limited time span. Many of the Iraqis I met and passed had lived through those years of military conflict and imperial domination. Unknown to me, these were experiences that had not gone away from their minds.

The only hint that some problems existed was when I attempted to order a copy of Marx's "Das Capital" from an English bookshop in Basra. The proprietor who originated from India, later felt the need to check matters out with the local Chief of Police. He was not allowed to order a copy. I only learnt much later that the Iraqi regime had been in a period of conflict with its own home grown Communists - see Hanna Batatu's "The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq" (Princeton University Press, 1978 and here).




Friday, November 06, 2015

Britain's Military Heritage In Iraq - Started 101 Years Ago Today

1. 101 years ago today and just three and a half months after the start of the First World War, Britain invaded Mesopotamia. British troops (who were mainly from India) captured the old fort at Fao (al-Faw) which then formed part of the Ottoman Empire. Fao is located at the south of what is now Iraq. It is where the Shatt-al-Arab river flows into the Persian Gulf. The Shatt-al-Arab itself starts at a point where two other main rivers flow into each other. These are the Tigris and Euphrates. They both commence in what is now Turkey, with the Euphrates then cutting fully across a significant section of Syria.

The photograph below is of British troops in Mesopotamia during the subsequent campaign.

2. Mesopotamia is seen as the cradle of civilization. It was where the Garden of Eden is believed to have been. The story of Noah and the flood fits in with an ancient Sumerian legend about an old man who survived 40 days and nights in an ark. Its main rivers produced rich fertile soil and a supply of water for irrigation. The civilizations that emerged around these rivers being amongst the earliest known non-nomadic agrarian societies. In terms of written history alone, Mesopotamia goes back to 3100 BC. It has a rich cultural heritage. But numbers of its ancient sites are now being destroyed by ISIS.  Way back it was part of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires: with later periods in which (amongst many others) Alexander the Great, the Romans and the Persian Empire had a presence.

3. Britain embarked upon its invasion at Fao soon after the start of the First World War, because the Ottoman Empire (which then dominated much of Mesopotamia) had recently signed a treaty with Germany. There was a particular worry about the danger to Britain's oil supplies in neighbouring Persia, especially in relation to the Anglo Persian Oil Company.

4. A long and bitter struggle then took place. But when British troops captured Baghdad in 1917, the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Britain then moved to unite and control what became the basis of modern Iraq in the vilayets of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. In 1919, however, it faced insurrections from the indigenous population who were far from keen about the prospect of having a fresh foreign imperial power emerging over them.

5. In 1920, however, Britain obtained a League of Nation Mandate to enable it to continue to play a major role in the development of Iraq. Following further unrest, Britain manoeuvred to create a situation in which a sympathetic regime under King Faisal was accepted in a carefully calibrated plebiscite, with a 96% endorsement.

Here is a link to a fine book which covers the above period. Note the comments about its considerable strengths.

6. Iraq operated under the British Mandate until 1932 when nominally it became independent. But before it gained its formal Independence, the United Kingdom achieved the Anglo-Iraq Treaty of 1930. This included permission to establish air bases for British use at Habbaniya and Shiaba, as British Crown territory. It was a situation that added to discontent amongst wide elements of the Iraqi population.

7. In April 1941 during the Second World War, there was a coup d'etat in Iraq when Rashid Ali ceased power and asked Germany for military assistance in the event of war with the British. Britain then sent troops into Iraq to topple the new regime and remained in effective control of the country until 1947 with a new Anglo-Iraqi Treaty being signed in Portsmouth the following year. This set up a joint defence board , but the Treaty was abandoned following mass protests in Baghdad known as al-Wathba (the leap). Britain, however, retained its bases in Habbaniya and Shiaba under the terms of the 1930 Anglo-Iraq Treaty.

8. In 1955 a pro-Western defence alliance known as the Baghdad Pact was signed between Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and the United Kingdom. As part of its terms the British Crown Territories at Habbaniya and Shiaba air bases were handed over to Iraq, although Britain still retained (but down-sized) it forces there and also at its Movements Unit which operated in Basra on the banks of the Shatt-al-Arab river. (Where I was undertaking my National Service at the time) The Baghdad Pact also led to the disbanding of a force called the Iraqi Levies. This force was made up mainly of Assyrians and had British Officers. It had originated as a local Arab armed scouting force during the First World War. On their disbanding, the Levies were given the opportunity to join the Iraqi Army, which then took over their previous facilities. But few Assyrians did this.

9. In one form and another Britain retained a continual presence and influence inside Iraq until the nation experienced a major regime change in 1958. The transformation in Iraqi politics in that year was itself stimulated by major unrest in Iraq over Britain's involvement in the Suez crisis of 1956. In 1959, the remaining RAF personnel and their aircraft were then obliged to withdraw from Iraq.

10. Britain's next direct military involvement in Iraq arose in response to Saddam Hussein's invasion and annexation of neighbouring Kuwait. Under "Desert Storm" in 1991, USA-led forces engaged in an air bombardment of Iraq. The RAF undertaking low-level attacks on Iraqi airbases. The Royal Navy provided scope for helicopters to destroy much of the Iraqi Navy. Whilst British Challenger tanks destroyed 300 Iraqi vehicles in both Kuwait and in pursuing Iraqi troops along the "road to Basra", until the plug was pulled on this military operation as the slaughter of Iraqi Troops was gaining bad publicity.

11. From 1992 up to the United States-led coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, two "No Fly Zones" were enforced upon Iraq by USA, British and French air forces. The zone in the north of Iraq was established shortly after the Gulf War, extending from the 36th parallel northwards and providing protection for Iraqi Kurds, who had faced genocidal attacks from Saddam Hussein's regime - especially back in 1988. A zone was also established south of the 32nd parallel to defend the Shia population from attacks by Hussein's minority Sunni based regime. In 1996 this southern zone was expanded from the 33rd parallel.

12. The US-led invasion of Iraq took place in 2003, consisting of 21 days of major combat. UK forces took responsibility for supervision in the southern area of Iraq around Basra. They mainly withdrew from Iraq in 2009, whilst leaving behind some troops for training purposes. The final 170 British troops departed in October 2012. US forces finally left in December 2012. Iraqi Body Count estimated that 174,000 Iraqis were killed as a result of the conflict up to 2013. 4,779 Coalition troops were killed, plus a total of 1,674 in the categories of contractors, medics and aid workers. Sectarian conflict has continued to add significantly to the numbers of Iraqi killings.

Here is a most worthwhile history of Iraq which brings matters up to recent times. 

This telling blog entitled "Musings On Iraq" has been running since 10 September, 2008.

This is my own thread on Iraq. It has fallen away in recent years, but (hopefully) it will now be revived.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Improving And Using Labour's Policy Making


This is not a criticism of the work undertaken by Labour's National Policy Forums, nor of those who feed material into their deliberations. But we must seek to draw all the people who are part of the Labour Party as associate, registered or individual members into its policy-making procedures. This has not been happening. Only eight Constituency Labour Parties and one Branch have made submissions to the current work of the eight Policy Forum Groups whose work is to be examined at the coming Labour Party Conference.  

When Policy Forum reports are endorsed by Conference, the Labour Party in the past has made totally inadequate use of these.

For instance, Labour campaigned in the European Union Elections in May 2014 with little or no reference being made to the policy positions it had by then endorsed. Nor did it draw from the progressive policy programme which was adopted by the Party of European Socialists (PES). Yet we are one of the PES's 32 political parties from right across the EU, who are supposed to be our comrades.

Another chance to push our programme was seriously missed during the Scottish Referendum, which was held just days before our 2014 Annual Conference. Yet by then our National Policy Forum Report for 2014 was only awaiting Conference's rubber stamp. This programme could have been used in Scotland.  It could have come to have had an eventual impact on the Scottish General Election results,  saving us from the full disaster of what happened.

Even after Conference endorsed the 2014 Policy Forum Report, those at the centre of Labour's Campaign still dithered. The membership needed to be alerted to our policies, so that they could press its general principles when dealing with the electorate. Indeed if our members had been enthused by Labour's proposals, it would have further enlightened and directed their efforts. It would have added a cutting edge to the considerable work that was undertaken.

But even though Labour used its Policy Forum policies late in 2014 to publish a pre-Manifesto  entitled "Changing Britain Together", little campaigning use was ever made of this key document. For instance, when membership cards were posted early in 2015, no information was enclosed with these to spell out where Labour stood. When emails came out to members from Labour's National or Regional Offices they invariably concentrated on fund raising matters. Yet Labour's policies could have been pushed to inform and enthuse members - and that could actually have helped to bring in more donations.

Even when "One Nation" (the Labour Party's membership magazine) was circulated this February as a 32 page booklet, policy items were confined to a few items only on pages 12 and 13. It was a glossy document containing 35 coloured photos and much trivia, containing interviews with both a celebrity and a baroness both of whom I had never heard of.

We had to wait until the General Election was upon us before Labour's General Election Manifesto was issued. It was then far too late for Labour activists to do their own research to absorb what we stood for.

How we determine policy and then disseminate what we determine, now needs to be at the top of our agenda.  If members are fully absorbed into the policy-making process, then they can more easily pick up its outcomes. Yet we also need to publicise policies as soon as we decide upon them - and then keep on about them.

Click here for an avenue to masses of policies we had in place in the run up to the last General Election, but never properly utilised.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

ILP Statement on the Labour leadership election

 Image result for Labour Leadership

A fine statement on the Labour Party leadership elections and on the way party activists and supporters should respond to its result when it is announced on Saturday, has been published by Independent Labour Publications (ILP).

Its flavour can be found in the following extract - "It is vital that the political divisions laid bare in recent months do not cause irreparable damage to the party's future. All of us in the party - candidates, MPs, members and supporters - should commit to some guiding principles based on democracy, respect, pluralism and participation that will allow us to work together whatever the outcome of the election."

The full statement is worth studying and can be found by clicking here.

It is especially appropriate that the ILP should make a case which could help to save and progress the future of the Labour Party. For the ILP was initially founded by Keir Hardie and others in 1893 as the Independent Labour Party and was a key forerunner and participant in the establishment of the Labour Party itself. For a first rate and recent article on the role which Keir Hardie played, click here  

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Labour Leadership Candidates Issue Manifestos or Substitute Material


The Campaign to obtain "Manifestos Of Intent" from the Labour Leadership Candidates (as shown here) received a limited success.

Andy Burnham has issued what is clearly a Manifesto, as he did for his campaign for the leadership in 2010. His current document is eight pages long and as he delivered this, it deserves to be examined carefully. See here. Then there is also his Leadership Campaign Web-site to examine here. Added Saturday 15 August. Also circulated via the post as an eight page booklet.

 Yvette Copper circulated a letter by post dated 3rd August, which is some 800 words long and probably qualifies as a "Minifesto". Her Leadership Campaign Web-site with more in it, is here. Added Friday 14 August. Today Yvette has circulated an 8 page booklet to members, on the penultimate page it provides an eight point programme.

Jeremy Corbyn has issued a number of policy documents in specific areas, which in total are much longer than Andy's Manifesto. But whilst detailed and important, they may be felt to cover less total ground than Andy's. They include "Protecting The Planet", "The Economy in 2020" and "Housing Policy". There are a further three documents which unfortunately are defective when printed off. But they can be read on the screen. These are "Housing Policy", "Northern Future" and "A Better Future For Young People". To seek out all these documents and other material, see his Leadership Campaign Web-site here. Added Friday 14 August. Today Jeremy has circulated material to members, it includes a ten point programme under the heading "Standing To Deliver". It can also be found here .

Liz Kendell had an article in the Independent on 2nd August, entitled "The five causes that Labour must put at the centre of our vision for Britain's future". See here. Her Leadership Campaign Web-site is here.

Looking ahead to the next Leadership Contest, there is a need for a requirement for "Manifestos Of Intent" being issued by the candidates, to appear in the Rules of the Labour Party. Amendments for this purpose can be submitted for the Agenda of the 2016 Labour Party Conference.   

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Next Labour Leader ?

 Image result for Labour Leadership Contestants

The BBC reports that the candidates for the Labour Leadership have obtained the following endorsements from Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs).

Corbyn 152, Burnham 111, 106 Cooper, 18 Kendle. See here.

That amounts to a total of 387 endorsements. But there are many more CLPs than that.

There is a Labour Party operating in Northern Ireland, but it does not have a constituency structure. As there are 650 parliamentary seats in the UK as a whole, when we deduct the 18 Northern Ireland seats from these we arrive at 632 for Britain. In a few cases CLPs may be virtually moribund and may not have met to consider the issue of endorsements. My own CLP met, but when the issue of endorsement was raised it unanimously accepted that it would not pursue the matter.

245 CLPs have failed to give support to any of the candidates. Yet it is reasonable to assume that at the very least 200 of these have enough of an organisational structure to have submitted supportive endorsements if they had wished to. 

So something over a third of reasonably effective CLPs have failed to submit endorsements. This places a question mark over the significance of the BBC's figures. In any case endorsements tell us only a limited bit of the story. They are not votes - for these an in the hands of individual members, those recruited for voting purposes by their affiliated Trade Unions and those otherwise signed up as Labour supporters.  CLPs are also made up mainly of delegates appointed by members who attend Branch Meetings or local meetings of affiliated bodies. Unfortunately, the great bulk of Labour Party members don't attend such meetings.

So Corbyn's lead in CLP endorsements, seems to indicate that he has the express support of something in the range of the majority of a quarter of those who attend Labour Party Meetings. There is still a big question as to whether this support will influence the silent majority or is reflective of its views.

Jeremy does, however, seem to have a clear advantage in the contest - the enthusiasm of many of his supporters.


Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The ILP Helps To Push "Manifestos Of Intent"

Labour Broken rose image From the ILP Website

Labour Campaigners call for ‘Manifestos of Intent’

Jul 8th, 2015 | By admin | Category: Articles, Frontpage, Lead Labour campaigners are calling on all the Party’s leadership candidates to issue ‘manifestos of intent’ indicating the direction of their likely policies and putting their politics on public show for the voters’ to consider. HARRY BARNES, who has led the requests for ‘detailed and serious’ sets of proposals, explains why they are needed and requests urgent support.

Everyone voting in the Labour leadership elections, plus many outside onlookers, would benefit if the candidates issued detailed and serious manifestos explaining what policies they would seek to pursue if they won the vote. In order to ensure these manifestos are more than just a collection of soundbites, they should at least be 3,000 words long.

This would give us, the voters, an opportunity to decide what is the most appealing set of policies, allow us to judge the depth and interconnections (or contradictions) contained by each candidate’s proposals, and enable us to assess which significant items are missing. Then, when the victors emerge, we will have in front of us some set of ideas which we can press them to deliver, and if there are proposals we disagree with, we can attempt to block them. All of this would add to the democratic processes inside the Labour Party.

Clarity from politicians might not be all we ask for, but it can help us to know where they are coming from.

The Dronfield Labour Party discussion group led a campaign for such manifestos of intent during the 2010 Labour leadership elections, although at the time we did not suggest a minimum length. We had a certain degree of success, but now we need a much greater and more co-ordinated effort to deliver the manifestos in time for the 2015 vote.

Ideally, we need Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to require the candidates to produce manifestos, and some Constituency Labour Party (CLP) resolutions to the NEC, calling for manifestos, have been emerging. It is hoped that other CLPs will quickly follow suit.

However, other organisations, Labour members and supporters can also contact the candidates and their campaign managers themselves, asking them to produce voluntary manifestos.

One response
So far, we have received a positive response on behalf of Jeremy Corbyn. But in order to make a fully informed decision by 12 September, we need more. So, whenever a candidate or their campaign team e-mail you for your support, why not reply, asking them to issue a manifesto of intent?

On 31 August 2010, the Guardian carried a letter which provided details of the Dronfield LP discussion group’s efforts at that time. It still provides a useful summary of what we achieved five years ago.

 It read: “The ballot papers are due to go out in the Labour leadership contest (Labour contenders await Blair, 30 August). At the last minute each of the candidates has produced a manifesto, but (except in one case) these are tucked away in an obscure blog entitled Dronfield Blather, which is run by the Dronfield Labour party discussion group, which ran a three-month campaign to obtain them. It would be helpful if the voters could first see what they are voting for.

The manifestos differ considerably in style and presentation. Andy Burnham’s is entitled Aspirational Socialism and is some 9,000 words long. He is also pushing this via his own website. The others have not yet done this.

Diane Abbott and David Miliband have produced what might be called ‘minifestos’ of under 700 words each. Whilst the two Eds have come up with scissors and paste jobs taken from what they see as relevant and important past items. As quantity is not the same thing as quality, judgments of the relative merits of each of these presentation can only be determined by examining them on the Dronfield Blather website.”

Although the Guardian letter in 2010 led to our blog receiving a record number of hits, in 2015 we need others to add to the pressure on Labour’s the NEC, the candidates theselves and their campaign teams.

Your help would be greatly appreciated.
Harry Barnes is a former Labour MP for North East Derbyshire and author of the blog ‘Three score years and ten’.