Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Sad Postscript

Another Trade union leader and his wife have been murdered by terrorists in Iraq. . This is a sad postscript to the last item I posted where I ended just prior to my summary with a reference to the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) who have issued this statement. Moaaid Hamid was Vice-President of the Federation. In 2003 he helped set up the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions(IFTU) which is now part of GFIW. I am myself an honorary member of the IFTU, so to me Moaaid was very much a comrade. In the memory of Moaaid and his wife we need to work to ensure that we do what we can to aid the success of the Iraqi Labour Movement.

Iraqi Communist Party (Part 4)

"The call was first sounded by the poet Jamil Sidqi az-Zahawi...In January 1921 in a poem entitled "Life and Death" he greeted the Bolshevik Revolution in these words:

O ye poor do not despair
of a life O ye poor!
Lately over the mount of guidance
has been hoisted for Bolshevism* a red banner** ...

footnotes: * Instead of the word "Bolshevism" only dots appeared when the poem was first published. ** Reference to the poem was made in Iraqi Police File no.289 on "Jamil Sidqi az-Zahawi"."
From Hanna Batatu's "The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movement of Iraq" Saqi Books, 2004 (copyright 1978) pages 395/6.

Hadi Saleh was inspired by the same political ideals which moved the above poet. He was associated with the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) for all of his adult life, until terrorists broke into his home in Baghdad in January 2005, bound and blindfolded him, tortured and burnt him and finally strangled him with electrical cords. They did this because Hadi was highly effective at building working class unity and helping to lay the basis of a tolerant and democratic society.

He had returned from exile on the heals of the Coalition's invasion of Iraq. For he knew that however much he had actively opposed the war, it had created a new situation. This provided both the need and the opportunity to move openly within the country to seek to establish his long term ideal of helping to build a democratic Trade Union Movement.

Hadi Lives On

As a young man, he worked as a printer on the ICP's newspaper "Tareea Al-Shaab" (The People's Path) and was arrested in 1969 after the successful Ba'thist Coup, beaten and tortured and then place on death row for 5 years. In 1973 he was finally released as a consequence of the Ba'thists new relationship with Communist Russia.

He returned to his work as a printer and as a political and Trade Union activist. But when the Ba'thists once more clamped down on the ICP, he fled into exile and founded the Workers' Democratic Movement which then operated in a clandestine way in Iraq.

Back in Baghdad he saw his former newspaper being distributed on the streets and attended the founding meeting of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) which occurred as early as 16 May, 2003 only a fortnight after Bush made the optimistic claim that hostilities had ended in Iraq. Hadi became the International Officer of the IFTU and travelled widely drawing in International Trade Union support.

I was privileged to Chair a meeting he addressed in the Commons and I am proud to be an honorary member of the IFTU. Addressing a memorial for Hadi at the TUC was a humbling experience. It was a privilege and an inspiration to have met Hadi and to work with his comrades.

No To War, No To Dictatorship

The ICP fervently opposed the preparations for the war in Iraq. When it occurred they called for an end to the invasion and the convening of an International Conference under the auspices of the United Nations which would involve Iraqi representatives, for them to gain assistance in the building of a new future for their nation.

Opposition to the invasion did not mean that they were defensive of Saddam's dictatorship, they adopted the slogan "No to War, No to Dictatorship". In their clandestine activities they were part of the widespread opposition in Iraq to Saddam. The details of the scope of this internal opposition never appeared in the Western media, as America and Britain needed to maintain the impression that only their actions could topple the dictator.

The ICP worked for the unity of the underground opposition, but it was unwilling to be part of the Iraqi National Accord (INA) whose work was being facilitated by the British Foreign Office and the American Embassy. It was felt that the INA was being used as part of the American/British strategy.

The ICP were also persistent opponents of the United Nations economic sanctions, which they argued were harming the Iraqi people and were aiding Saddam Hussein's ability to control the internal situation.

Kurdish Connections

In the years prior to the Coalition invasion, the ICP via its sister organisation the Kurdish Communist Party (KCP) was able to operate its Central Committee and Conferences from numbers of meetings in Shaqlawa in Iraqi Kurdistan. The No-Fly Zone had enabled wide areas of Kurdish territory to operate as a fairly autonomous region.

For a period internal conflicts arose in this Region between the main Kurdish political parties the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Popular Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Both the KCP and the ICP worked for reconciliation between these Parties. This emerged and has since grown in strength.

Operating through Shaqlawa, the ICP were able to develop a coherent policy and when the invasion took place they responded to the fluidity of the new situation.

Principles And Practical Politics

Whilst the Secretary of the ICP joined the Governing Council established by the Coalition, he and his organisation pressed for a planned withdrawal of the occupying forces. Something which they have always sort to achieve. But the pressures they have exerted to further this end have always been political and never as part of the insurgency.

An armed fight against Coalition forces they believed would only advance a culture of conflict in which terrorism, sectarianism and criminality would come to the fore. Which is. of course, what has happened and is to the serious detriment to the well-being of the people of Iraq.

As an alternative the ICP have persistently advocated a comprehensive programme to tackle unemployment, destitution and the lack of basic supplies; including electricity, water and even oil. They have also sort to prevent budgetary restraints being imposed by the IMF and moves to privatisation.

Since the invasion the ICP have always operated within the newly established institutions, whilst continuing to press their programme. They stood in the two General elections of 2005, pressing for a federal and democratic Constitution and then for the reality of its operation. They currently hold a Cabinet post and (with the KCP) a limited number of parliamentary seats.

What's Left?

Given a quarter of a century of violent oppression under Saddam Hussein, the stimulation by him of tribal and clan divisions, the rise of politicised and militant Shia Islamic forces and a Sunni rebellion against its loss of influence in post-invasion Iraq; it was not to be expected that the ICP would hold on to the base of the mass support it enjoyed back in its peak on May Day 1959.

Yet it still has an involved and committed base, as is shown here and here. The IFTU quickly established a membership of 200,000 and developed close links with the even larger Teacher's Union and its Trade Union brother and sisters in Iraqi Kurdistan. The ICP is the nearest thing to the political arm of this development.

Unfortunately, Iraqi State legislation currently places serious blocks on Trade Union and NGO activity. Trade Unions even have their funds sequestrated. The struggle for the repeal of these measures is at the top of the ICP's agenda.

Assistance for both the political and industrial wings of the Iraqi Labour Movement should be at the forefront of commitments in Iraq by the British and wider international Labour Movement. To its credit, the TUC and many of its affiliates recognise and respond to this in giving practical support and solidarity to the Iraqi and Kurdish Trade Unions.

Separate Development

The KCP is in a different position in Iraqi Kurdistan. Political life is easier for them. There isn't the same terrorist threat, because the community mobilise against it. Whilst the Kurdistan Workers' Federation, the large Teacher's Union and their other Trade Unions are not subject to the legal restraints experienced in the rest of Iraq.

The Kurdistan Region is also a source for exporting hope and expertise to the rest of Iraq. The KCP links in with these developments, but local politics is dominated by the KDP and the PUK. The KCP, however, plays a key role in seeking to maintain and advance the Governing Parties socialist commitments.

In the remainder of Iraq, everything is to be played for. The only serious Labour Movement potential rests with the ICP and the IFTU-based Trade Union Movement which now covers others within the new Iraqi TUC, known as the General Federation of Iraqi Workers.


In Part 1, I dealt with the events leading up to the establishment of the ICP in 1934 and its subsequent development up to its high water mark in 1959. Basically the British formation, occupation, then influence over Iraq led to an industrialisation which stimulated the growth of an impoverished town-based working class. These are essential for the growth of a Marxist inspired Labour Movement.

Part 2, covered a packed 5 year period from 1958 to 1963 when General Qasim was in office following a revolution against the ancient regime. At the time, the ICP was at its highest point for membership and support, with the ability to pressurise the Government. At the end the regime was overturned in a bloodstained Coup. If the ICP had won through, the subsequent history of Iraq could have been dramatically different.

In Part 3 started with the Ba'thist/Nationalist Coup of 1963 and its year of the slaughter for the Communists. Although the Ba'thists were then expelled from the Government, they responded with a successful Coup of their own in 1968. The ICP were allowed to operate reasonably openly from 1973, but this was only a prelude to the oppression that was in full swing when Saddam Hussein became President from 1979-2003. The struggle of the ICP in exile and its clandestine activity is dealt with in that period, when a whole host of Saddam's errors led to the collapse of Iraqi living standards in an era of repression.

Part 4 above has dealt with the ICP's approach to the Coalition invasion in 2003 and activities since then. We are left with questions about the ICP's prospects as it is a much smaller organisation then in the 1958-63 period. Yet it draws emotionally and intellectually from that high-water mark and remains the main political expression of the Labour Movement outside of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Comments and Sources

I would welcome comments. Especially on errors and omissions. Plus references to the other sources than those I mention below. Arguments against my analysis are, of course, what comment boxes are for. I will now read this book and return to the topic later.

The main sources I have consulted are the mighty Hanna Batatu, Charles Tripp, the Slugletts and Abullah Mushin & Alan Johnson. A major source for the current Part 4 has been the ICP's English Web-site. Misinterpretations are all my own work.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Iraqi Communist Party (Part 3)

"...the wound to the Communist Party was severe and, insofar as the members were concerned, proved to be the prelude of a seemingly endless year of horror."
From Hanna Batatu's "The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq" Saqi Books, 2004 (copyright 1978) page 985.

The First Ba'thist Slaughter

When General Qasim's regime (as described in Part 2) was overturned by Ba'thists and Nationalists in the Coup of 1963, the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) desperately attempt to save it and their hopes for the future. As a consequence of their defeat, they experienced widespread slaughter and the period of terror referred to by Hanna Batatu above.

The Ba'thists made use of lists to round up Communists and murder them. The finger of suspicion has always pointed to the CIA as supplying the names and addresses.

Division In The Ranks

It was only when Ba'thists were removed from power at the end of the year that the orgy of violence ended. This change wrong footed the Central Committee of the ICP who had moved in exile to Prague. They issued what is called the "August Line" saying that the Party could support the progressive elements in the Arif National Government who favoured the type of policies being pursued by Nasser in Egypt.

But ICP members operating in a clandestine way in Iraq were not willing to accept this and the Central Committee adjusted the line to one of struggling against the dictatorship and calling on the pro-Nasser element to resign.

The change of heart did not, however, prevent a split in the underground ranks and a group entitled the Central Command emerged inspired by Mao and Castro and they conducted an armed revolt. They were heavily defeated.

The Ba'thists Return

The Ba'thists regained power in 1968 in a further coup. They were, however, keen to protect their position this time and they even offered Cabinet places to the ICP because of its wide following. The ICP refused and the Ba'thists renewed their repression on the grounds that "if you won't join us just see what happens to you."

Yet despite an abysmal Ba'thist civil rights record, the ICP came to have a grudging admiration for some of their early achievements.

What Had Early Ba'thism To Offer?

The first Ba'thist regime of President al-Bakir pursued a number of policies which found favour with the ICP.

First in Agriculture, there was the end to the compensation scheme for the land sequestrated from large landowners, the instigation of further land reform, investment in food production, encouragement for irrigation and the establishment of Co-operatives.

Secondly, they provided subsidies for basic commodities and provided limited social and welfare services.

Thirdly, they extended links with the Communist USSR over oil production arrangements. This led on to an Iraqi-Soviet Friendship Pact on trade. Whilst in 1972 the Soviet Leader Kosygin came to Iraq on a State visit.

Finally, the Iraq Petroleum Company was nationalised, also in 1972. By then (and thanks to increased oil production) the Gross Domestic Product had grown in only 4 years of Ba'thist rule by almost 15%. Living standards had benefited.

As with Qasim's reforms, not all of these went well, but they were in a direction that Communists' were keen about. At the same time, the Ba'thist clampdown on Communist activity remained in place. An agreement with the Ba'thists would have the distinct advantage of providing the ICP with a public space. For instance, to openly publish and sell its newspaper - which it knew would be popular.

On top of these factors, the Soviet Union was pressing them to join with the Ba'thists. In 1973 they finally agreed and joined the Ba'thists in a National Patriotic Front. Although this body was secondary to the Government itself, it adopted a socialist rhetoric and two ICP members had moved into the Cabinet in preparation for the signing of the agreement.

Why Did The Ba'thists Court The Communists?

Just what was in all this for the Ba'thists?

To start with it went down well with the Russians, but more ominously it allowed the Ba'thist to record who exactly the Communists and their sympathisers were. The more open things were for the Communists, the easier to prepare the Ba'thist files on them.

Due to an escalating growth in oil production, Iraq's own control of its operations and the growing impact of OPEC in raising oil prices; the links with Russia became less urgent. And as the Ba'thists now knew where to find the Communists, the National Patriotic Front had served its purpose. The IPC formally withdrew from the Front in 1979, by which time the Front was almost dead on its feet.

The Communists were now rooted out and slaughtered. Sadam Hussein also took over as President in 1979 and started a purge of his own Party.

The ICP was pushed back into its past mixture of exile and clandestine activity. The Trade Union Movement it had once proudly led was subverted by the State, eventually Trade Unions were banned in the dominant public sector of the economy. The old Trade Union structure (long under State interference) was restricted to the private sector and Chemical Ali was put in charge of it.

If The Communist Had Known

The ICP had joined the National Patriotic Front in order to press the Ba'thists into social, economic and libertarian reforms. The latter never happened, but the other two seemed to. Joining also provided them with a open link to the Iraqi working class.

The tactic seemed to work for a while. Much about life was getting better, the GDP grew almost threefold under the Ba'thists from 1968 to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980. On top of this, the ICP was expanding its network in society. It even had a bookshop in Baghdad where the Communist Manifesto was sold. That was better then when I was in Basra in 1956 and the local Chief of Police vetoed my ordering Marx's Das Capital from a local bookseller.

In retrospect, the ICP suffered deeply by joining the Front, for as a consequence it was dealt with in a terrible way. But we have to live life forwards and not backwards and (in difficult conditions) associating with the pre-Saddam Ba'thists looked like a reasonable decision in the prevailing circumstances.

The Saddam Years, 1979-2003

As Saddam Hussein took over the Presidency of Iraq the ICP was being pushed back into hiding. It is a marvel that it survived when we consider what it had to face.

1. Masses of its activists and supporters were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and executed.

2. Employing a mixture of use and abuse, Saddam nurtured the very forces in Iraqi society which the ICP had hoped to see transcended via its development of a homogeneous working class. Saddam divided and ruled by exploiting tribal and clan rivalries. Bribery, corruption and fear were used for such ends. People were driven to such competitive group loyalties for a mixture of protection and advancement.

3. The improvements in living standards were halted and went dramatically into reverse under Saddam. This was due to the impact of the Iraq-Iran War, the Gulf War, wasted expenditure and excessive military mobilisation (used partly as a means of social control) and then United Nations sanctions. When people are faced with repression and economic collapse they are driven to individual and family acts in seeking to survive. Class solidarity is at a low premium in such circumstances - especially given the impact of point 2 above.

4. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the events leading up to it, took place in circumstances in which the ICP had little opportunity to discuss whether it was time to adjust to changing world patterns of socialism such as Euro-Communism,
Left Democratic Socialism (which was close to its practices) or even New Labourism. It had other priorities, mainly of its own self-preservation. It did not, for instance change its name in order to court popularity.

5. It was also being challenged on its own territory by an underworld of political Islam; although the relative autonomy which the Kurds gained with the establishment of the No-Fly Zone gave a freer scope of development for a Kurdish Communist Party, which enjoys fraternal links with the ICP of which it had been a prominent section until it was faced with conditions in 1993 when it could operate as an open and not a clandestine organisation. Indeed Hanna Batatu (whom I always quote from at the start of each of these Parts) states that the Kurds were in the ascendancy in the ICP in the important years from 1949 to 1955.

Yet despite all the above hindrances, in part 4 I will show that the ICP had an immediate impact following the Coalition's Invasion of 2003 with some of its members being at the forefront of the establishment of a new and active Trade Union Movement whose great potential for an improved Iraq we need to be aware of. The cards might seem to many to be stacked against the ICP in today's Iraq, but then some would claim that has always been so. Others (whilst recognising the difficulties) would claim that are just what is needed to provide the hope of building a growing, equal and democratic society.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Iraqi Communist Party (Part 2)

"At the highest point of Communist influence - in mid May 1959 ...."
From Hanna Batatu's "The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq" Saqi Books, 2004 (copyright 1978.) page 838

In Part 1, I explained the background to the rise of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) to the prominence it enjoyed in May 1959 - which was the month when members of its Central Committee led a mass May Day demonstration through the streets of Baghdad.

Responsible Revolutionaries

The Communists leading the demonstration were dressed in their best suits and ties. This indicated something about their commitment and values. They did not choose to be seen as being either Islamist or Arabs. For with them and as a prominent part of the crowd were many non-Arabs from the Kurdish north of Iraq.

They called upon the nation's new leader, General Qasim to set up a representative system with Western-style bourgeois democratic arrangements which they believed would best ensure just economic and social policies, alongside civil liberties. As a means to this democratic aim, they sort representation in the Qasim Government itself.

The Ebb And Flow

After the high-water mark of the rally with half a million from all over Iraq on the streets of Baghdad out of a population of less than 7 million, the ICP could claim to have played an important role in shaping developments in Iraq until disaster struck both itself and Qasim in 1963. Yet is was an influence that ebbed and flowed and never reached the high hopes of those May Day festivities.

Qasim could not ignore the pressure on the streets. There were many Communist demonstrations taking place throughout Iraq. For a short spell Naziha al-Dulaimi, a female member of the ICP was appointed to a Junior Government post alongside two Communist sympathisers. But an electoral system was never established.

In demonstrations in Mosul and Kirkuk, conflict emerged when elements both inside and outside of the regime clashed with the ICP. Given the scope of ICP pressure, Qasim responded with a double tactic.

First, he adopted constraints upon the activities of the ICP and its women's, youth and peace movements. But these fell short of the full scale repression which had occurred in the past.

Secondly (as shown below), he pursued a range of measures aimed at improving the lot of the poor. It was because the ICP wished to encourage such reforms that they sort to protect Qasim and his regime from the very forces which eventually smashed them. They did this dispute the restraints Qasim had placed upon them.

Five Years Of Hope

The ICP's efforts to democratise the Officer-led revolution of 1958 failed when Qasim and those around him decided to hang on to the power they had grabbed and to use the connections and corrupt practices of the old monarchical regime to maintain their position.

Yet aided by growing Oil Revenues the Qasim regime embarked upon an impressive looking list of reforms. Although results never fully matched up to the rhetoric.

There was a degree of Land Reform and redistribution of estates, which removed (but fully compensated) some of the larger land owners. There was a school building programme and a trebling of pupil numbers, but the teacher shortage it produced wasn't seriously tackled. A similar problem arose in building hospitals and in not providing sufficient new doctors. Labour laws attempted to tackle excessive working hours, to provide minimum wages and create jobs; but the actual achievements were patchy.

The most successful reform was the building of 10,000 houses in Baghdad to replace the self made mud homes of the crude sarifas which I described in Part 1.

Whilst prior to a move to censorship, there was a period of the growth of intellectual, cultural and artistic achievements. The ICP's involvement in ranges of activities, encouraged these developments. This was possible because the ICP did not in general adopt a dogmatic Marxist-Leninist approach, but was the leading party for social reform and democracy in Iraq.

Restrictions And Restraints

Unfortunately for the ICP, Qasim came to believe the propaganda which put him as "Sole Leader". The ICP was not allowed to register as a recognised Political Party and it suffered from censorship and the disbanding of its associated organisations. Yet they knew that things would get much worse for them if Qasim was removed.

The Communists ability to get people onto the streets neither gave it the power to democratise the system, nor the ability to take it over. A Communist coup would also have brought the Western Powers down upon it like a ton of bricks. For the West even believed that Qasim was in the pockets of the Communists when he entered into a relationship with the Soviet Union mainly for military hardware.

It wasn't just Qasim's economic and social programme which the ICP felt driven to protect. He also advocated a policy of "Iraq First" as an alternative to those pressing for a Pan-Arab alternative. The ICP shared this stance.

The Pan-Arab ideal was reflected in the attempt to unite Eqypt and Syria into a United Arab Republic between 1958 and 1961. It was hoped that this project would draw in Iraq and the rest of the Arab world.

The ICP opposed such Pan-Arabism on three main counts. First, it felt that it should cater for all Iraqis including the significant body of Kurds.

Secondly, Communism did not have the strength it held in Iraq in other parts of the Arab world, where it was generally seen as an atheistic and anti-Islamic force. Other Arab nations normally stamped out local Communist activities which tended to be more in the dogmatic Marxist-Leninist mould than was the case with the dominant trend in the ICP.

Finally; if the ICP succeeded in advancing its version of left-wing Democratic Socialism in Iraq, it could hope to export its approach to non-Arab neighbours in places such as Iran. Kurds also lived in wide areas of Turkey, Syria and Iran which bordered on Northern Iraq.

Qasim's opposition to the Pan-Arab ideal led to his relative isolation in the Arab World (although he attempted to make overtures to Arab Gulf States other than Kuwait.) On Kuwuit, he called for it to become a province of Iraq in 1961, when it gained its independence from Britain. A position which led to Iraq's expulsion from the Arab League.

From Dream To Nightmare

In October 1959 a 22 year old Saddam Hussein was one of a group of Ba'thist conspirators who unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Qasim.

The organisation Saddam acted on behalf of operated via cells in the forces, in the Governmental structure and increasingly in the wider society; making use of the strong tribal, clan and family networks which existed and still exist in Iraq. These were territories which the ICP hoped that working class loyalties and comradeship would come to transcend.

The Ba'thist copied the ICP's tactic of attempting to take over the streets - but with a difference. They believed that power came out of the barrel of a gun. They used assassinations and conspiracies and had links which enabled them to obtain arms for their activists on the streets.

The Ba'thist ideology wasn't as clear cut as the ICP's. It talked in terms of Pan-Arabism and of a form of socialism that was directed at Arabs only and yet it pursued its own form of nationhood which was directed at needing to establish a strong centralised State. Pan-Arabism was seen by numbers of Ba'thists as coming from deals stitched up between the strong national leaders they desired.

For both tactical reasons and those of shared values, Ba'thists were willing to work with pro-Arab Nationalists who were insiders in the structure of the State, especially those in the forces. The Ba'thists were, however, faction driven at this time and (as with the Nationalists) personality, power and patronage were more influential than the veneer of their ideas.

The Coup of February 1963 was, therefore, a combined effort involving Ba'thists and disaffected Nationalists. It was followed a month later by a Ba'thist Coup in Syria. This worried the Nationalists who had participated in the Iraqi Coup. Their position looked to be in danger. They then moved quickly and ousted the Ba'thists in the November.

It was to be 1968 before a further Ba'thist Coup opened the door for the eventual regime leading to Saddam Hussein.

Next Time

Although the Communists were dealt with in a hideous fashion by the Ba'thists in 1963 (and many times later), the ICP was able to survive because it knew from its past how to function as a clandestine organisation.

Because I have been dealing with the high-water mark of the ICP (at a time which was to become its main ideological inspiration), I have only covered the years 1958 to 1963 today.

In Part 3, I will seek to cover the forty year period from 1963 to 2003 as it is mainly a single story of an organisation seeking to survive as an underground operation. There is, however, one seeming anomaly to explain. How was it that the ICP signed up to a short-lived deal with the Ba'thist Government in 1973, and was this justified?

A concluding Part 4 will be directed to the ICP's attitude to the Coalitions' Invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its subsequent actions and stance.


The main works I have consulted in an attempt to check details (but not for interpretations) are to be found here, here, and here. Then there is a further work which I am very supportive of and for which I wrote an introduction - see here. Finally,there is also here an interesting looking work which I have not yet seen and have just ordered. I intend to read it only after completing my items on the ICP, to then see what its similarity and differences are to my own analysis. I then hope to post a review of that book.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Iraqi Communist Party (Part 1)

"The first reference to Bolshevism in the Abstract of Intelligence, kept by the British political police in Iraq, occurs in an entry dated January 17, 1920. It was a brief note from the officer concerned to the effect that "Bolshevik talk in Baghdad is on the increase."
From Hanna Batatu's "The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq" Saqi Books, 2004 (copyright 1978) page 1,137.

In under 40 years this "talk" in the streets of Baghdad would become a torrent, but in support of the Communists' pressure for "bourgeois democracy".

Creating Iraq

At the time the police officer made the above note, British forces were in occupation of the former Provinces of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul which had been part of the Ottoman Empire. Britain had taken over this combination of territory during the First World War because the Ottoman Empire had allied itself with Germany and Britain was keen to protect its links with part of its Empire in India.

Three months after the police officer's comment, Britain was formally granted a League of Nations Mandate for the new nation of Iraq, with its current borders.

Creating A Proletariat

Britain's economic interests helped it to develop the Port of Basra, extend factories in Baghdad and to start the oil industry in Kirkuk when oil was discovered there in 1927.

To operate this developing structure towns expanded throughout what at one time had been called Mesopotamia - a Greek word for the land between two rivers, used to cover the fertile agricultural land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates.

There was a growing momentum amongst the poor to move from their tribal lands (which they did not own) to form a disappointed and impoverished industrial working class.

As there is no shortage of mud between the rivers, the new proletariat used this natural resource as building material which would bake in the heat of the sun. They used the mud to build houses and enclosing walls. They dug channels in the mud for sewage disposal and dug into the mud to make communal wells for drinking water. The areas are known as sarifas.

The Battle For Ideas

As labour was the cheapest of commodities, back power and muscle power was used to compliment machinery. For instance, labourers in the docks and the goods yards carried excessive weights saving the expenditure of capital on carts.

Traditional ethnic, tribal, clan, family and religious links were resorted to by many to find ways of handling this harsh new life. These influences would at times lead to conflict with the authorities. But the authorities could also approach the heads of such categories in order to buy them off or divide and rule.

The Bolshevik tendency noted by our police officer in 1920 was also, however, spreading seeking unity amongst all workers and it was to gain a formal focus in the 1930s.

This clash of ideas still has a contemporary relevance, although we hear much more about the former than the latter.

Founding The Party

In 1932 Iraq had been granted a form of independence, but British troops remained (I was to be one of them in 1955/6) and the newly formed Iraqi Levies were established under the strict control of British Officers.

When the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) was founded on 31 March, 1934 it used two powerful sets of arguments to advance its ideology. It gave its full weight to both opposing British Imperialism and in arguing for an end to the exploitation and impoverishment of working people.

At the time, these arguments had a big appeal as the condition of the Iraqi Working Class had worsened considerably as a consequence of Britain's own economic crisis of 1931.

Yet within only 25 years this newly established body (as we will see) seemed to be on the verge of at least sharing political power at national level.

The Two Sides of Repression

Up to the Iraqi Revolution of 1958, Governments normally attempted to repress the ICP's activities and those of the bodies they were linked with, such as the growing Trade Union Movement. This was a double edged tactic against them. For whilst it hampered the ICP organisationally, it gained sympathy for its cause.

For instance, when Trade Unions were themselves banned for a period from 1936, this led to the ICP's involvement and mobilisation against the repressive legislation itself.

Before the ICP could become a real force in Iraqi politics. however, it need two things - effective organisation and firm use of a clear opening. The man for the job pushed himself to the front.

Organisation Man

The above conditions were fulfilled under the work of Yusuf Salman Yusuf (known as Comrade Fahd) who became General Secretary of the ICP in 1941. He had always criticised what he saw as "coffeehouse communists" and he moved to put himself firmly in control of the ICP. He then revamped the organisation and significantly expanded its membership amongst working class people.

This task was made easier as Russia had moved to enter the Second World against Hitler and was now on the same side as Britain. So the ICP's criticisms of Britain became more muted and its organisation became subject to less rigorous controls by the then pro-British authorities - Britain having re-occupied Iraq in 1941 when their Prime Minister Rashid Ali was deposed for attempting to link Iraq with the Axis powers. The ICP's soft pedaling over Britain made its task of recruiting working class members reasonably free from interference.

Between 1944 and 1946, 16 new Trade Unions were founded with full ICP involvement. Comrade Fahd now had his effective organisation structure and links, all he needed was on opening. It wasn't long in coming.

The Great Leap Forward

In 1948 the Iraqi Government signed the Portsmouth Treaty which updated earlier Anglo-Iraqi Treaties and maintained British influences in Iraq, including the continuation of air bases being held as British Crown Territory.

Industrial Action via the new Unions was now used politically against what was viewed to be an Act of Imperialism. There were widespread demonstrations and further strike activity on the industrial front. 1948 was known as the year of al-Wathbah (the Leap).

The Government reacted with oppressive measures and arrested the leaders of the ICP. When they discovered that Comrade Fahd was still running the ICP from his prison cell, he and two of his comrades were executed.

The Upheaval

The ICP were, however, now strong enough to survive repression and set up the "Peace Partisans" in 1950 in which they argued for a neutral position over the Cold War and linked with other political parties.

This led to demonstrations in Baghdad in 1952 known as Al-Intifada (the Upheaval) and the ICP using the banner of the "Peace Partisans" then united with two other parties in a General Election in a structure which generally blocked political party activity, yet took 14 seats. The Parliament was then disbanded and repression renewed.

Suez Crisis To The Iraqi Revolution

When Britain, France and Israel colluded to invade Egypt in 1956 in an attempt to take over the Suez Canal which Nasser had nationalised, there were immediate demonstrations in Baghdad, Mosul and Najaf advocating anti-Imperialism and a Pan-Arab alliance. The ICP took a leading role in these.

Two years later a popular Free-Officer's military take-over resulted during which King Faisal II was shot and the long influential pro-British Prime Minister Nuri-al-Said fled.

General Qasim became Prime Minister and more then 3,000 British Air Force personnel were obliged to leave the country.

The ICP's High Water Mark

By 1959, the ICP claimed to have 25,000 members and gained election to all the ten seats on the Central Council of the newly established Iraqi equivalent of the British TUC, the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU).

The ICP leadership of the GFTU then organised a May Day Demonstration in Baghdad attended by half-a-million people out of a total Iraqi population of less than 7 million.

Hopes for the future could not have been higher. Since it was formed only 25 years earlier, the ICP's advance had been considerable.

The Remaining Questions

I will move on to assess (a) how the Ba'thists came to power instead of the ICP, (b) what happened to the ICP in that period, (c) what it has been able to achieve in the post-Ba'thist period and (d) what are its prospects for the future,

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Roll On Next Season

Celebrating Promotion

Conditions were ideal for Sheffield FC's final game of the season today on their home ground. In front of a good crowd by Northern Counties Eastern League standards, they celebrated their promotion to the 1st Division of the Unibond League.

The festive occasion was added to by the fact that the Club's Under-19s, Women's Team and its two disability teams have all had successful seasons. Whilst its links with a network of youngsters teams via FC Dronfield had also gone well.

On top of which its "Boots for Africa" campaign has shown more about its fine approach to the game.

The Light Blues

The opposition playing in an all light blue strip where Selby Town who have an outside chance of taking third position in the League and also gaining promotion thanks to a restructuring of the Unibond.

Sheffield were also smartly turned out, giving a pre-view of next season's new strip designed for their 150th Anniversary as the oldest team in the world.

Despite having the early edge in the game, Sheffield went one down in the 22nd Minute when Stephen Davey struck his first goal. He was to prove a handful for the full 90 Minutes.

Yet it only took 3 minutes for Sheffield to equalise with a goal from Pete Davey, following a fine move down the left-wing by Darren Holmes.

So with the half-time score at 1-1, I shot off as fast as my walking stick would allow me to the Coach and Horses pub which is owned by the Club.

Blurred Vision

In the pub I finished up in conversion with Tom who has not missed a home or away game since he first came to see Sheffield FC play almost half-way through the season. As a consequence, I was late back into the ground and missed a goal from Vill Powell which put Sheffield 2-1 up. A Steward told me that it was a fine effort.

The final result was determined in a three minute spell from the 75th minute. First, Vill Powell burst through the Selby defence but then ballooned the ball over the bar, when scoring seemed easier. Obviously, not the fine effort which I had earlier missed. Then, Selby's Stephen Davey pounced for his second goal. Finally, Sheffield played ping-pong from close range at the Selby goal, but without success.

So we ended with a 2-2 draw, yet surprisingly went back to the top of the League over Retford Town who lost their second League Game within 5 days.

Who Will Win The League And Why?

Whilst Sheffield FC have finished their season, Retford still have two games remaining. As they have a superior goal difference, a single draw will be enough for them to take the title.

In his programme notes (written before today's slip up by Retford) Sheffield FC's Manager suggests that their likely success is due to their higher budget. Although I have seen neither Retford's nor Sheffield's accounts, I found this to be a big surprise.

Sheffield have a number of different sponsors for their stadium, their strip and with provisions for mascots. Some fifty advertising boards are displayed in total around and outside the ground. They have also just completed the purchase of the ground and its neighbouring Coach and Horses pub.

Perhaps Sheffield's expenditure has placed it into debt, or maybe Retford have a benefactor I don't know about.

However, a lack of finance could well explain the plight of bottom of the League Brodworth Welfare, who took only 10 points out of 38 games and ended up with a goal difference of minus 103. For they can't be taking much revenue at the gate, as at two recent home games the crowds were 15 and 18. Such small attendances could, of course, be an effect of their plight rather than the cause of it.

The Future's Bright

Sheffield FC play at the "Bright Finance Stadium", known to us as "The Stadium of Bright". Given promotion and all sorts of goodies for the Club's 150th Anniversary, the future also seems to be bright.

The Team is off to play in the Hong Kong Soccer 7's. Then to play the oldest team in Africa. Pre-season friendlies are lined up with teams from Blackburn Rovers, Hartlepool (my father was on their books for a period), Doncaster Rovers, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United. Then Celebration matches are likely against teams from Real Madrid and AC Milan. I only hope we can find some time for the Unibond.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

When They Can, Iraqis Follow Football

17 December, 2006

Iraq take the Silver Medal at the Asian Games in Doha losing 1-0 to Qatar the host nation in the final, having defeated South Korea in the Semi-Finals.
The following month (on 18 January) Iraq knocked Qatar out of the Gulf Cup at Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, but were themselves later defeat by Saudi Arabia.

25,000 Crowd In Baghdad

This was back in June 2006 at the Al-Zawraq v Al-Jawiyn game at the Al-Shaab Stadium in Baghdad, despite football being targeted at the time.

2006-7 Season In Full Flight

The Iraqi Super League kicked off on 22 December, 2006. Due to the problems of violence against football which I describe via the above link, the League was re-structured into Regional Divisions. But the top teams will still qualify for nation-wide play-offs.

North Division

Made up of 7 teams, mainly from Iraqi Kurdistan. Arbil (whose ground I travelled past several times last April) are the current leaders.

South Division

Also made up of 7 teams, including those from Basra and religious centre of Najaf - the latter are the current leaders.

Baghdad's Two Divisions

There was to be a Division of 10 teams from the Baghdad area, but Ramadi FC dropped out. Not it is claimed because it has been a centre of conflict, but for financial reasons. To ease travelling difficulties in the midst of the problems of violence in the area, the remaining nine teams were then divided into two Divisions.

Al-Jawiya whom I mentioned above are runners-up in Division A. Whilst Al-Zawaq whose ground was packed with 25,000 spectators last June, are the leaders of Division B.

Super Link To The Super League

Updated Iraqi Super League tables and links for details about all the 23 teams in their 4 Divisions can be found here. Furthermore, the League also operates 2nd Divisions.

Iraq v Palestine

What about these as comradely contests in the Asian Cup Qualifiers, played over two-legs neither of which are held in the "home" teams homeland? First of all Palestine have not yet got a proper homeland. So they met in Jordan on 16 August last year, with a 3-0 win to Iraq. Then Iraq took their "home " game to Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates on 6 September, 2006 - it was a 2-2 draw.

But You Can Celebrate More Than Sport At A Sports Stadium

18 days ago, 10,000 people (including children) packed into a Sports Stadium in Baghdad to hold the first mass secular democratic celebration in Iraq for years. I will give details about the political party who organised this tomorrow. In the meantime look at these amassing photos - and these. Both football and politics can (and should) be fun and never this.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Genesis Of A Blog

The Genius Behind The Blog

Several months before my 70th birthday I indicated to my son Stephen that I wouldn't mind operating a blog and that as somebody or other was already using the title "Harry's Place" I could call it "Three Score Years and Ten".

But as time moved on and my PC skills had not improved, I pushed the idea from my mind. Stephen, however, did not.

Unknown to me, he set up a site in May 2006 using the identification I had suggested and adding a favourite quotation of mine from Kierkegaard which appears just below the heading. The initial item he posted was of a letter I had had published in the New Statesman".

For my 70th birthday itself he added a second item taken from my introduction to the TUC book "Hadi Never Died : Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Union Movement". The Blog was then presented to me as part of a bumper 70th Birthday celebration which took place at his home - hence the photo in the top right corner of me with a balloon.

A Slow Learning Curve

My PC skills were so limited that from July up to Xmas Eve, the only means I had for posting items was to type them on my word processor and send them via e-mail to Stephen. He did the rest.

In all 27 items (some rather lengthy) appeared via Stephen, before I acquired the abilities to post material directly and add the necessary links. The 100th item appeared yesterday. So this is now the 74th which has appeared under my own stewardship.

88% Labour, Iraq, Football, Blogs and Gods

The main subject areas covered have been -

34 on the Labour Movement; including the Labour Leadership contests, the Fabians, Compass and Labour History. Much as you would expect from an ex-Labour MP.
Here is my review of Nick Cohen's "What's Left?"..... I am.

29 on Iraq (including Iran); again to be expected from a Vice-President of Labour Friends of Iraq. This is a version of an early speech.

16 on Football; which arise from the glories of retirement. This one was published in the Sunderland Football Fanzine "A Love Supreme".

5 on Blogging itself; here is a go at Oliver Kamm.

4 on God and Philosophy: here is an atheist's criticisms of Richard Dawkins.

The remaining 12 were a wide mix.

"Things Can Only Get Better"

Well, for this blog if not for Labour.

There are no photos to enliven the text, beyond the initial one placed by Stephen. They are beyond my skills, so I can pretend that I am Normblog.

I did not even get round to using sub-headings on a regular basis to try and jazz things up until the New Year.

Some of my best bits probably appear in other blogger's comment boxes, so they have disappeared into the ether as far as I am concerned.

I can maybe keep my current handle until I am 80, by which I need to think up something snappier than "Four Score Years".

Monday, April 16, 2007

"We All Went To The Zoo Together"

Three Generations

Yesterday in the blazing sunshine, three generations of the Barnes family dashed around London Zoo to make sure we spent time watching the monkeys, the giraffes and the feeding of the penguins. But why were these our priorities?

Easy really. It was our Grandson Joseph's second birthday and those are his favourites.

Our son Stephen and our daughter-in-law Rebecca took turns to manoeuvre his push-chair and then lifted him up to see the animals. But he kept stopping them to check that his Grandparents and his Aunty Joanne hadn't got lost.

What Clever Timing

Joseph is our first grandchild. His birth came at an extra-ordinary time for my wife Ann and myself.

When I ceased to be an MP on 11 April 2005, Ann and I had no time to fret or celebrate. Only one thing mattered. At any time our Grandchild would be born. Somewhat overdue, he arrived four days later.

To us he will always show that family life is far more important than parliamentary posturings.

An Infant Prodigy Blogger?

This happens to be the 100th item posted on this blog. I am pleased that it fitted in with our Grandson's birthday celebrations.

My own reflections on being 100 not out will just have to wait until I post my next item.

At the rate Joseph is growing up, he will probably be starting up his own blog about 65 years earlier than I did.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Tony Benn - True Blue

An Old Blogger

One of the advantages of being an Old Blogger like me is that you can always find an anniversary to celebrate - although sometimes by I remember I am a day or two out as with this one.

10 years ago my son, Stephen and I saw a classic FA Cup Semi-Final at a full-house at Old Trafford in which Chesterfield (our Local League Team) played Middlesbrough of the Premiership.

We Was Robbed

Chesterfield rushed to a 2-0 lead, but the Bro pulled one back. The defining moment arrived when Chesterfield clearly scored a third that would have established a commanding lead.

The TV evidence showed the ball to be well over the Bro goal line, but the Ref and the Linesman did not see what had happened. The Bro then fought back and took a 3-2 lead.

In the dying seconds, Chesterfield broke down the right-wing. The ball was centred and took a high bounce for Jamie Hewitt to rise and head it into the net. It was a great 3-3 draw.

The fact that Chesterfield lost the reply 3-0 does not take away from us what very nearly happened - a dream trip to Wembley to see Chesterfield play in an FA Cup Final with the chance of becoming the first team outside of the top two Leagues to take the trophy.

The Politics Of Football

All of this occurred in the middle of the 1997 General Election Campaign when I was the Labour Candidate for North East Derbyshire, which is a huge "C" shape around Chesterfield itself. Tony Benn and his late wife Carolyn were on the same coach. Tony being Chesterfield's Labour Candidate.

We had to abandon our red Labour favours as that was the Bro's colours. We transferred to the Tory blue of Chesterfield.

Labour went on to win a landslide electoral victory with my own majority trebleling in size. But that would have been put in the shade if Chesterfield had been able to clinch the Cup.

Such a win would have brought Tony up to speed on soccer. For when we passed a crowd in red shirt and red and white scarves he was heard to say "Oh! Are they Bro supporters ?" Perhaps he had in mind the alternative thought that they might have been Labour canvassers !

Whilst it was certainly a day for celebrations for Stephen and myself 10 years ago, we had much more to celebrate 2 years ago tomorrow. It was just 4 days after I retired as an MP. I will report on that later, but not tomorrow itself as we will be too busy with the anniversary celebrations.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"There Is Nothing As Ex As An Ex-MP" : Tam Dalyell

Packing Up

I am now entering my 3rd year as an ex-MP. Yesterday was the second anniversary of my clearing out of the Commons when its facilities and the magic initials were taken away from me at precisely 5pm. That was when the material on my Commons Computer was wiped.

Ann was with me and our final farewell was to Kevin McNamara who was also retiring. He was the first MP Ann had ever voted for in the famous Hull By-election 40 years earlier. Labour's handsome victory (thanks to Barbara Castles' decision to provide them with a Humber Bridge) led to Harold Wilson deciding to call a victorious General Election in 1966.

Time Flys

Thanks to my being older than Ann, my own first vote was for Manny Shinwell in the Easington Constituency in 1959. I later came to occupy his seat in the Commons when he finally moved on to become a back-bencher. But I was determined not to try to emulate his decision to hold on until the age of 86.

My spell as MP was a modest 18 years compared to Kevin's 40 and 44 by Manny.

Since that day, time has passed in a flash. The only thing I seriously miss about the place is the access to the Commons's Library and to its Researchers who can provide an MP with all sorts of relevant information if asked. It would be a bloggers dream - except that existing MPs should have different priorities.

There is plenty time for blogging when the day is done.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Don't Just Leave That Junk Alone

When Half A Blog Is Better Than None

Oliver Kamm's attack on political blogging is strange. Not least because he is a (restricted) form of political blogger himself. His limitations as a blogger are (a) that he doesn't engage in debate with his readers even via a managed comment box and (b) too many of his posted items are just repeats of his various newspaper columns or are adverts for his coming radio and TV appearances.

I am not complaining about Kamm only being a half blogger. I know that he is a busy man who needs to earn a crust and does not have the time on his hands which is my lot as a 70 year old. Furthermore, some of his material is fully worthy of serious thought. I am particularly indebted for some of his academic quotes and references.

It is also the case that a great deal of political blogging falls to his criticisms; especially when material being pursued in popular comment boxes such as at "Harry's Place" degenerates into abuse amongst the commentators.

Easy Targets

What is wrong with Kamm's piece is that he is in danger of throwing out a great number of babies from a huge tub of dirty bath water.

He starts with a criticism of Guido Fawkes (to whom I refuse to provide a link) who had set himself up as an Aunt Sally by appearing in disguise recently for a TV debate. But Guido is the easiest of targets. It is hardly a matter of the serious dialectics of debate to shout "rotten fish" at such a non-thinker.

But there are numbers who can be searched out who are in a different league to Guido. Some of my own preferences are shown here.

Kamm then takes on some ill-judged comments from a Conservative who is trying to avoid looking conservative. George Osborn's efforts to look modern and with it, lead him to give exaggerated praise to some of the worst category of political bloggers - Tories. Unfortunately, Kamm ends up displaying a form of elitism that is worrying and he condemns efforts at inner-party democracy for he sees bloggers as being in danger of becoming mere versions of yesterday's Militant Tendency and the Monday Club.

Non-Dialectical Blogging

Kamm also argues that political bloggers restrict the material they are exposed to and merely link to re-enforce their prejudices. So unfortunately, just what is new about that? It is like buying the Daily Telegraph or the Morning Star each morning.

Yet there are bloggers who appear to surf the net to look for information, sources and challenging ideas. Is Kamm, for instance, aware of "Political Opinions" which summarizes and catalogues a wide range of political blogs so that a quick glance can let a blogger know if anything of interest has recently been posted.

I agree that it is a waste of time to click into an item that tells you that Manchester United have just beaten Roma 7-1, when most people who are interested have just watched it on TV. But there is much more than trivia on offer.

Needed : Philosophical Discourse

Kamm moves on to quote the philosopher Michael Oakeshott who pointed out that politics should be a conversation and not an argument. Something which Kamm feels is the other way round in the blogosphere.

Perhaps, in general, this is correct about bog standard bloggers. But from my scramblng around there seems to be a silver lining.

Kamm then seems to assume that most political bloggers do little else in life and are cut off from normal avenues of political debate. But to me, numbers of them seem to be (shudder the thought for Kamm) political activists.

There is, however, a form of political activism that is neither just politicking nor electoralism. Some of us have an interest in political education. For my local Labour Party I run discussion meetings (which aren't propaganda meetings), address other meetings and attend Conferences and other debates. In fact I have attended a meeting addressed by Kamm in which he had a go at another speaker who put in a good word for the blogosphere.

What Is His Point ?

What is the point of Kamm's continuous crucifixion of blogging ? It is like someone who sees themselves as anti-globalisation. I am afraid that King Canute illustrated the answer to both of these. The developments they criticise are firmly with us and are not likely to be mopped up in the near future. The way to deal with them is to work upon them to transform them.

To some extent Kamm's half-blog already leads by example. He just needs to clarify what he is and could be about.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Worth Putting Your Shirt On

Sheffield FC - Promotion, Promotion, Promotion.

Although I have a season ticket at Sheffield FC, until yesterday I had missed out on their last four home games due to a combination of my travels and a spell of poor health.

Yesterday, however, I made the game against Armthorpe Welfare when we clinched promotion from the Northern Counties East to Unibond First Division.

There has been a re-structuring in Non-League football and we have clinched promotion with two games remaining as we will now finish up in the top three. Normally only the champions have progressed.

The likelihood is that we will end up in one of the top two positions. Yet at one time we felt that there was little doubt that we would take the title - now it is only a possibility.

The Stumble

During the period of the games I missed, my local team had hit something of a rough patch. They had been leading the League by 8 points, although Retford Town their nearest rivals had three games in hand. But since I last saw a game Sheffield have taken only 11 points from 7 games, compared to Retford taking 16 points in the same number of games.

With the season drawing to a close, the gap was down to only 3 points and Retford still had (and have) those 3 games in hand.

Worse still, the stumble started with the first home game I missed in this spell with a 4-1 defeat by our rivals Retford.

Disarming Armthorpe

Armthorpe had a young looking team, which we felt should have been playing our Under 19s. It looked as if we were going to sweep them aside. Within a minute Gavin Smith our right back scored his 10th goal of the season with a drive from 25 yards.

And although Armthorpe equalised in the second minute, we were back ahead after 5 minutes through a Chris White goal. We then rained in shots, belting the cross bar and with many a near-miss - including a pile of defenders and attackers on one occasion inside the Armthorpe six yard box in a game of ping pong.

The only goal we added came from an Armthorpe deflection of a Chris White corner. But we settle down for a second half continuation of the fun. But it wasn't forthcoming. Armthorpe started to look like the men of experience and could have easily got back into the game. But Sheffield survived to run out 3-1 winners and finalise their promotion.

Will We Finish Top ?

Unfortunately, Retford also won 3-0. The uncomfortable gap remains. We lead by three points and they have those three games in hand (and the superior goal difference). We only have two games left, the next one being away to Retford themselves. Unfortunately, I will miss it but I should make our final game of the season at home to Selby Town.

Our hope for the title is wins against Retford and Selby, with Retford only collecting 6 points in their other 4 games. But even if things don't work out, we can always celebrate a successful promotion. And remember, we also celebrate our 150th Anniversary whilst in the Unibond.

Sunderland AFC - Top, Top, Top.

When the whistle went to end the Sheffield FC vs Armthorpe game, I dashed up the steep bank to my home to get to the start of a massive game on TV - Southampton vs Sunderland.

I had 5 minutes to switch out of my Sheffield FC supporters shirt and into a Sunderland shirt.

With a fine 2-1 victory, Sunderland bounced to the top of the Championship for the first time this season and extended their unbeaten run to 16 games, including 13 wins.

The combination of Niall Quinn's Club organisation and Roy Keane's management have completely transformed the team I have supported for 60 years. The team make-up and performances have been altered absolutely from the team who had the worst ever Premiership record last season.

So thanks to my donning the right shirts at the right time, we have Sheffield FC promoted and Sunderland currently as top dogs.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Freedom Is Not Free

Concluding This Series

This is the final item in a continuous series which I have posted about a visit I made to Iraqi Kurdistan a year ago as part of a delegation from Trade Unions and Labour Friends of Iraq.

The following items can be found posted immediately below this one.

(A) 3 April "Najim Abd-Jasem"

On a meeting with Iraqi Trade Union Leaders, including Nasim who was recently murdered in Baghdad because of his Trade Union activities

(B) 4 April "On The Road To Sulaymaniyah"

As our delegation moved to meet Sulaymaniyah's Trade Unionists. For this you also need to follow a link to my much earlier item, entitled "Another 4th April".

(C) 5 April "From Torture To Under-employment"

On further activities in Sulaymaniah, including a visit to Saddam Hussein's former torture chamber at the Red House.

(D) 6 April "A Seat Of The Gods"

On our return to Arbil and the meetings we held with Trade Unionists on our arrival.

(E) 7 April "Our Friends In The North"

Details of our visit to the Zargros Mountains, whilst also covering our earlier programme over 1, 2 and 3 April as provided by our fine hosts - the Kurdistan Workers' Federation.

(F) 8 April "Freedom Is Not Free" On our final day, see now-

Preparing To Leave

Initially we had arranged to meet the Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government whose father's grave we had visited the previous day. But our flight was brought forward so our meeting with Massoud Barzani had to be cancelled.

We called back to Sami Abul Rahman Park as we wished to visit its monument to 98 Kurds killed in a terrorist attack on 1 February, 2004. It points out that "Freedom Is Not Free". In my mind this also now stands as an epitaph to Najim Abd-Jasem. See the photo of the memorial on page 5 of this report. Page 4 also gives details of the members of our delegation.

Return Journey

We flew to Dubai from Arbil in a once-weekly plane that was only a quarter full. This contrasts starkly with the crowded airports at Dubai and at the later change-over in Doha.

The economic prosperity of the nations involved (the United Arab Emirates and Qatar) is also a stark contrast to Iraq. They have used their oil wealth to diversify their economies and provide for their futures. This was a direction that Iraq seemed to be on the verge of, until it was overtaken by the adventurism and oppression of Saddam Hussein.

I found the flight over Iraq to be a telling experience. When we made the reverse flight on our arrival, Iraq had been covered in clouds and Arbil was completely in the dark. But on the return journey it was bright sunshine and I was free to move seats from side to side to catch the sites of Baghdad and Basra which I had known from the ground in the days of my National Service 50 years earlier.

The Lessons

Much of what I learnt from our visit to Iraqi Kurdistan probably comes out in the dialectics of the debates I participate in on the future of Iraq; or in my writings, talks and blogging. But as is a bloggers habit, I will give a list. It is of seven of the lessons I have drawn.

(1) Iraqi Trade Unionists deserve and need our understanding and practical support.

Sue Rodgers the Chair of the TUC's Iraq Solidarity Committee was part of our delegation. The TUC provides a clear avenue through which people can help - numbers of these developed out of our visit. Specific Trade Unions such as UNISON have their own linked programmes of assistance.

(2) The Iraqi Government needs the continued pressure of the world's Trade Union Movement to repeal two major pieces of anti-Trade Union legislation.

First, Saddam Hussein's decree 150 is still operative in banning the operation of Trade Unions in the major public sector. Secondly, there is a post Saddam Hussein decree 8750 which sequests Trade Union Funds until such time as the State decide who it will recognise as registered Trade Unions. Neither of these decrees are, however, operative in Iraqi Kurdistan.

(3) Iraqi Trade Unionists (mainly those outside of Iraqi Kurdistan) face persistent terrorist activity, with occasional harassment from American and Iraqi forces.

Activists in the wider Trade Union and Labour Movement in the UK should not turn a blind eye to this when determining which actors to support and criticise within Iraq.

(4) Whilst Iraqi Kurdistan is not free from its own strains and stresses, it is important in its own right as an area of growth, development and democratisation. It is also important as an example and as a link to the rest of Iraq.

The Kurdistan Workers' Federation, their Teachers' Union and the professional Trade Unions we met have important links with their equivalents in the Arab areas of Iraq, as well as internationally.

(5) The economic development of Iraq is a key to its future.

In Iraqi Kurdistan there is a wide acceptance of the need for inward investment (even by their Communist Party) and for the democratisation of their form of command economy. They don't, however, wish to be taken over by a form of turbo capitalism and look for formulas in which public controls can direct private involvement. This is relevant to the development of the rest of Iraq. Democratic socialists throughout the world can fruitfully apply their minds to the development of such a project.

(6) Iraq, of all places, does not act in a vacuum.

In addition to the pressures of Coalition Forces and their Governments, we need to be aware of the complex range of interests coming from neighbouring Middle East Governments and internal groupings in their countries. These impact on legitimate and illegitimate trade, provide military problems and create diplomatic and religious/political pressures - including the impact of imported forms of terrorism.

(7) The complex nature of an often fractured Iraq is to a large extent a consequence of economic collapse over a period of more than three decades.

The Iraq-Iran war, the invasion of Kuwait, the Gulf War, smashed Shia and Kurdish uprisings, the hideous actions by Saddam Hussein in pursuing his shifting strategies, UN sanctions and the Coalitions invasion and subsequent insurgencies and mass acts of terrorism have had massive economic and social costs. Ethnic, tribal and religious divisions have been built upon in years of brutalisation under Saddam Hussein.

There are wide but battered elements in Iraq who have an alternative vision of peace, secularism, co-operation and democratisation. Their problem is that they have to operate in circumstances where many can not look far beyond than their daily needs of survival. Yet these people are part of a brave tradition within Iraq. They have shown their love for education, cultural development, urbanised communal values and solidarity. Helping to allow these elements of Iraq to come to the fore in association with those who bravely lead the struggle for such values (as did the late Najim Abd-Jasem) is the best task we can apply our minds to.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Our Friends In The North

7 April, 2006

A year ago to the day, our friends in the Kurdistan Workers' Federation (KWF) took our visiting delegation on a fascinating tour in which we viewed the mountains of Iraq. The beauty of the area is shown here, if you access the photographic gallery. It is very unlike the baked and caked mud which is characteristic of so much of Iraq.

On Arriving

We first met the KWF (who are known locally as the Kurdistan Workers' Syndicate) at Arbil Airport after we landed there in the dark at 7 pm on 1st April. They were our hosts, programme planners and guides.

Our friends were led by Hangaw Abullah Khan, who had made such an impression when he addressed the UNISON Annual Conference in this country in 2005.

After comradely introductions they rushed us to a restaurant and we sat around a large table mixed in with our hosts and their friends. The latter included representatives from the Teachers Union and the Deputy Governor of Arbil, who made a welcoming speech to which I responded on behalf of our delegation.

It was a fine start, so it was after midnight by we booked into our hotel which was protected by huge concrete blocks and had a checkpoint at its entrance guarded by the local peshmerga with guns.

After passing through security, the board said "It is not allowed to enter with or to carry any hand gun inside the Hotel. Your co-operation is kindly appreciated." Prior permission was also required to book into the hotel.

The Best Of Programmes

Hangaw and his colleagues arrived the following morning to start our planned programme. As we left the hotel we passed the offices of the Metal Workers' Union which was pock marked with the signs of bullet shots.

The traffic was heavy, taxis abounded and the roads were sound. The National Assembly building which we later visited had its security blocks painted in patterns and had towers with armed guards.

We drove to a building in the Saui Abdul Rahman Park where we joined a UNISON funded Trade Union Training Course. Before becoming an MP in 1987, I had taught for 21 years in classes for Trade Unionists and I recognised that this was a first class provision.

I liked the fact that the numbers of men and women amongst the adult students and the tutors balanced. And I was later impressed by the strong feminist interest expressed amongst Trade Unionists we met in Sulaymaniyah.

A Neat Mix

Over the next two days we had lively, informative and often lengthy meetings with (1) their Speaker, his Deputy and various Kurdish Assembly MPs, (2) the Minister of the Interior, (3) the Hewler Governor, (4) the Kurdish Communist Party, (5) the Health and Social Service Minister with a host of officials and (6) the Minister of Education.

On top of this we visited a Printing Works and linked up with a Shop Steward we had met on the Training Course. We also had a fascinating visit to the ancient Citadel of Arbil which I mentioned in an earlier item I posted. Then we had that historic meeting with the Trade Unionist who had flown in from Baghdad Airport.

The Grand Tour

I turn now to our tour on 7 April to the Zargros Mountains.

Abdullah Mushin is the International Representative of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers and was a key member of our delegation. When we reached Shaqlawaq, he pointed out that he had hidden in the mountains to the east when he had escaped from the Baathist regime in the late 1970s.

After we had moved beyond numerous check-points into the rural highlands, I felt the safest since I had arrived in Iraq. It was then pointed out to me that we were invariably being observed from the mountains by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) who had a record of paramilitary action in Turkey, Iran, Syria and Northern Iraq. So relaxation in any part of Iraq is only a relative term.

Apart from the water falls and snow capped mountains, we passed old forts used by Saddam Hussein for troops and prisoners, a water pipe project with Turkey and a vast area earmarked for flooding to create a lake for hydro, leisure and tourism.

Border Country

We had two main stopping points.

First, at a village near Barzan near the Turkish border we met members of the Barzani clan who took us to lay flowers at the grave of Mulla Mustafa Barzani the legendary Kurdish hero who founded the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). His son Massoud Barzani is the Prime Minister of Kurdish Regional Government, whom we only missed meeting the following morning when the time for the departure of our plane was brought forward.

Next we moved to Hargaw's home to be welcomed by his parents and the rest of his family. The house was prominent, being large and near the top of his village on the edge of a massive snow capped mountain near the Iranian border.

Having a fine Kurdish meal whilst seated on a huge Kurdish carpet, with the companionship of friends and comrades is an experience of the highest order.

Taking in more scenery and important stops, we made our way back to our hotel in preparation for leaving the final morning.

Good Night, for Now.

Our stay in Iraqi Kurdistan had involved visits to Sulymaniyah, a day in the mountain areas which I have just described and a whole host of activities in Arbil, including the meeting with those who came to meet us via Baghdad.

Tomorrow I will conclude these reports with some of the details of our finals hours and the flight home which took us a lengthy route from Arbil and by air covered Baghdad and Basra. I will add some of my general impression of the visit.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Seat Of The Gods

Arbil, Irbil or Erbil ?

The items I have posted over the past three days have been reports of my experiences in Iraqi Kurdistan precisely a year before these were posted. I am now up to 6th April.

I have taken to spelling Arbil with an "A", but it is also likely to appear on maps and in the literature starting with an "I" or an "E". The English version outside its airport uses the latter letter.

But "Hewler" Has Only One Spelling

In Kurdish the town is known as "Hewler" which means the "Seat of the Gods". It contains a fascinating walled citadel which lays claim to be the world's oldest continuously inhabited city, having housed Neanderthal Man, the Assyrians, the Romans and Alexander the Great.

In a fully peaceful Iraq, Hewler/Arbil would be one of numbers of Iraqi sites for streams of tourists. They would spend their money in its fine hotels, shops and bazaars. It would be used as a base to see the wonders of the near bye Zargros Mountains - which I will report upon tomorrow.

The more adventurous could check it out even now - but would need to assess what I describe below and examine the Foreign and Commonwealth advice here.

Returning To Arbil

There are many large towns in Iraq in what is a highly urbanised nation. At 7.30 a.m. we left Sulaymaniah which has a population of three-quarters of a million for Arbil where the population tops a million. We were in a small convoy of cars, covering the eight people from our delegation and our hosts from the Kurdish Workers' Federation (KWF).

Although we had travelled to Sulaymaniah on 4 April via a scenic route, we returned by an even more mountainous and breathtaking avenue. We passed isolated and security-free farming villages (the type Saddam Hussein had at one time obliterated) and stopped to have our photos taken beside huge rocks which had been beautifully painted and carried the slogan "Peace For Kurdistan" - as shown on the cover of this TUC Report.

In Arbil we were back to regular (but secure) road checks, roads full of old cars and taxis, huge protective concrete slabs around both public offices and our hotel, masses of building work and the regular sale of black market petrol in plastic containers by young men smoking cigarettes. For legitimate petrol sales are only periodic and lead to massive queues of cars.

Meeting Industrial And Agricultural Workers

Up to this point we had met a wide range of Trade Unionists. These were (a) our hosts from the KWF, (b) the Trade Unionists from the non-Kurdish areas of Iraq who had flown in to see us on 3 April including the late Najim Abd-Jasem who was recently murdered in Baghdad and (c) those we had met on a regular basis in Sulaymaniyah over the preceding two days.

But we now held two meetings with Trade Unionists whom we had not previously encountered. The first group were from fresh areas in Iraqi Kurdistan, including Soran, Mosul and Kirkuk. Unfortunately, a trip to meet Trade Unionists in the Northern Province of Dahuk was cancelled and they did not make our meeting.

These Trade Unionists covered Construction, Transport and Communications, Agriculture and Food, the Mechanics and the Oil and Gas Workers. They were part of the KWF. The Trade Unionists in Kirkuk and Mosul operating in areas targeted by terrorists.

I chaired this session and it moved into the area of what practical help their Trade Unions needed. The main result was that funding arrangements were put in place to assist the operation of a Trade Union Radio Station.

Meeting Civic Society Organisations

When this group was described to us as being made up of Civic Society Organisations, we rather expected to meet either pressure groups or civic functionaries. We soon discovered, however, that these were a distinctive group of Trade Unionists operating outside of the area of the KWF, but enjoying close links with them. They mainly catered for professional groups.

The largest organisation was represented by the President of the Kurdistan Teachers' Union who have 100,000 members. It covers everyone involved in education up and including Universities. We had already met up several times with this body, who were present when we met with the Minister of Education.

Others were from the Professional Engineers (2,000 members), Economists. Artist (15,000), Qualified Engineers, Health Professionals (9,750). Agronomists and Lawyers and Barristers (5,000).

Their major interests were (a) to have their members develop fraternal links with equivalent bodies in the rest of Iraq (although there were no equivalents in Baghdad for the Lawyers and the Qualified Engineers), (b) but not to need continually to have to function via Baghdad and be blocked in, so (c) they needed to develop links with equivalent organisations outside of Iraq. It was the latter we have attempted to facilitate.


If some of what follows sounds familiar from yesterday, it is because I included it in the wrong place at that time and I have now corrected my report for 5 April.

More Food For Thought

We ended up with a meal at the appropriately named Hewler Restaurant, hosted by the Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament whom we had met earlier.

I sat opposite a couple of MPs from the Kurdistan Regional Assembly who weren't Kurds. One was an Assyrian (he was a Christian as the bulk of Assyrians are)whose father had served under British Officers in the Iraqi Levies prior to their disbandment in 1955. The Movement's Unit I served in with the RAF at Basra when undertaking my National Service was surrounded by a camp of Iraqi Levies which was disbanded over that time and replaced by the Iraqi Army.

The other MP was a Turkoman. He and the Assyrian assured me that there was no sectarian divide involving their communities. They were particularly pleased that recent educational reforms had aided their communities by incorporating their respective languages and cultures into their local schools.

Next to these two MPs was the President of the Kurdistan Teachers Union whom we had met earlier that day. He fully concurred with the MPs comments about the new provisions in their schools. So an informative and fruitful day ended in peace and harmony. As they say "Peace for Kurdistan"

Thursday, April 05, 2007

From Torture To Under-employment And Hope

5 April, 2006

The terrible coincidence that I had met the Iraqi Trade Union leader, Najim Abd-Jasem in Arbil exactly a year before I heard of his recent murder by militias has led me to provide a daily record of what I was involved in a year ago. This is about 5 April, 2006.

The delegation I was with spent the day in Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan. We had friends with us from the Kurdish Workers Federation in Arbil. But it was now their equivalent Trade Unionists in Sulaymaniah who helped arrange our programme and accomodation, whilst taking on the enthusiastic role of guides.

The Red House

The memory that will always be with us is our visit to the Red House - red which came to be for blood. It was run as a hideous torture chamber by the Baathist regime.

Those incarsorated where crammed into unbelievable conditions with 70 to a cell. Cells no larger than an average living room. They were subject to a range of torture techniques, including having their hands bound behind their backs, hung on meat hooks whilst being wired to an electricity generator, as shown here.

Our guide, Bakar Hussein, had experienced this particular torture, regularly passing out after an hour or so and then being thrown back into his crowded hell-hole. Although Bakar survived these terrible conditions, 5000 others did not.

Initially residents living near the Red House heard continual screams. So central rooms were sound proofed and the sounds of torture muffled.

The Red House is scarred with bullets.Its extensive surrounding yards, from which the Baathist troops operated contain the hulks of rotting Soviet tanks they once used.

The Kurds eventually liberated the Red House and it is now a telling and terrifying museam to the horrors of the past.

The Cigarette Factory

Cigarette factories were introduced into Iraq in the early inter-war years when the country operated under a British Mandate.

We visited a Cigarette factory with a difference. Its machines dated back to 1963 and no longer worked. They had not produced a fag for four years. Yet 600 workers turn up daily to sit beside their inoperative machines. They don't get paid otherwise. They keenly look forward to the introduction of new machinery.

We were taken round by their shop stewards, who included a number of Islamic women dressed in the Chador. A key issue was whether this form of hidden unemployment shoudl be turned into open unemployment, with such workers then being paid unemployment benefit. But on the whole, the workers preferred to stick with their theoretical jobs and be in situ when the new machines eventually arrive.

Meeting Officialdom

We also had a busy schedule of meetings, although some of these would have bit the dust if a planned trip to Hallabjah had taken place. But our hosts (ever mindful of our safety) cancelled that trip due to local disruptions, including the shameful smashing of the monument which had been put up to those gassed by Saddam Hussein's forces.

We met the Minister of Industry and Energy, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Deputy Governor and a large group of local politicians which included both representatives from the Islamic League and the governing Patrotic Union of Kurdistan.

There was no shortage os issues for discussion. Such as problems of inward investment, whether to move to joint enterpises, possible social contracts, hydro-electric plans, trade potential with Turkey and Iran, the expliotation of minerals, skills and training problems and why there were petrol shortages in a nation built on oil.

Food For Thought

We ended up at dinner, again with the Minister of Industry and also with the Minister of Higher Education.

But whilst our various meetings and the discussions over the meal provided important food for thought, it was the 600 workers with nothing to do all day and the past horrors of the Red House which are the abiding memories.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

On The Road To Sulaymaniyah

Yesterday (in the item immediately below this one) I recorded a telling experience I had in Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan a year ago when I met Najim Abd-Jasem, the Iraqi Trade Union leader who has recently been brutally murdered by extremist militia.

The following day our delegation moved by road from Arbil to Sulaymaniah. I posted an item about this some time ago and I have now slightly amended it and made it more reader friendly. As the events it records happened exactly a year ago today, I provide a link to it here. It is called "Another 4th April".

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Najim Abd-Jasem

A Sad Anniversary

Exactly a year ago today I sat near the centre of a long and crowded table at a meeting in Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Sitting almost opposite to me was Najim Abd-Jasem, the General Secretary of the Mechanics, Printers and Metalworkers Union in Baghdad.

I have just discovered that Najem was kidnapped last Tuesday, brutally tortured and then murdered because of his non-sectarian Trade Union work. His body was found on Monday. It is a sad and shattering anniversary of what had been one of the most telling meetings I have ever attended.

3 April, 2006

The room was crowded with people from four avenues. First, there was our delegation of British Trade Unionists and representatives from Labour Friends of Iraq. Then there were our fine hosts from the Kurdistan Workers Federation, plus a handful of journalists. We were there to meet a delegation of Iraqi Trade Unionists who had flown in from Baghdad and included representatives from Basra and elsewhere.

Because it was considered unsafe for us to visit our Iraqi comrades, they kindly came to see us even though travel to Baghdad airport was not without its risks.

After comradely introductions, our visitors took turns to explain the roles of their respective Trade Unions and to answer questions about their problems and needs.
Najim was the third to do this, following Hashimiya Hussein the President of the Basra Electricity and Energy Workers Union and the only woman in the Iraqi delegation and then Abdul Latif al Saadi the General Secretary of the Oil and Gas Workers Union.

Najim's Report

Najim told us that his Union had 18,000 members in Baghdad only a few of whom were women and the latter were mainly centred in the printing industry. 35 work place committees operated in Baghdad.

The Union was, however, seriously hampered by the fact that 194 factories were paralysed and out of production in Baghdad itself. The Union had serious organisational, negotiating and financial problems due to high unemployment levels. Their unemployed members not being able to pay Union dues. The Union was also hampered by a current Iraqi State decree which provided for the sequestration of Union Funds on the grounds that they still had to rule as to whom they saw as being bona fide Trade Unions.

Having to deal with numbers of managers which included a remnant of Baathists who maintained anti-Trade Union attitudes produced numbers of problems, including the willingness of such managers to resort to the use of Saddam Hussain's Decree 150 which banned Trade Unions in the main State Sector of the Economy. The Decree has not since been rescinded outside of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Najim's Struggles

Najim had been an active member of the underground Workers' Trade Union Movement during Saddam Hussein's rule and had struggled against the regime, losing his employment as a consequence.

He was a key founder member of the new free Trade Union Movement which emerged in Iraq immediately after the Coalition's invasion. He helped establish both his own Trade Union and the wider body it affiliated to - the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). The later has now merged into a wider body known as the General Federation of Iraqi Workers and is recognised by the Arab Federation of Trade Unions.

My Links With Najim's IFTU

Just before we sat down for our meeting in Arbil, I was presented with a certificate of Honorary Membership of the IFTU. I now have it proudly displayed in my study, but I will now view it with a deep poignancy as it was just after I received it that Najim and I sat down almost opposite each other.

Furthermore, Najim is the second Iraqi Trade Union Leader involved with the IFTU whom I have met and who was subsequently brutally murdered for their efforts in building up open, democratic Trade Unionism. The first was Hadi Saleh whose life and work is dealt with in the fine TUC publication referred to here.

If Iraq is ever to overcome its current troubles, it is what Najim and Hadi lived for, worked for and died for which is in need of our support.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Closing One Door - Opening Another

Locked Outside

The Iranians claim that the 15 British Naval Personnel they arrested were in Iranian territorial waters at the time.

In the last item I posted (just below this one), I suggested that their claim might be based on 1993 Iranian Legislation which lays claim to territorial waters from roughly the centre of the entry of the Shatt-al-Arab to a point 12 nautical miles to the south, plus a similarly wide band of sea to its east. This would have covered the co-ordinates which we produced.

But the Iranians have now produced a map (seen here) which does not seek to make use of their 1993 Legislation. The border they show between Iraqi and Iranian territorial waters is, in fact, very similar to the one we recognise and it is roughly at a 45% angle to the south-east from the central point of the entrance of the Shatt-al-Arab.

The Iranian's claim is that their co-ordinates show the incident to have taken place on their side of this line. They don't seem to be in the game of attempting to claim distinctive and wider territorial waters. Although there is still the possibility that in their pressurising of our personnel, maps making the 1993 claims have been shown to them.

New Opening?

On January 15, the US Military raided an office in Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan and arrested 6 Iranians and confiscated files and computers. From different reports one or two of those initially arrested (described as diplomats) were later released. The remainder remain in custody and their whereabouts are unknown. The Iraqi Kurdistan authorities (who otherwise get on well with the Americans) have been highly critical of the US in this case.

Iran recently suggested that those remaining in custody could be released in exchange for the 15 Royal Navy personnel. This proposal was firmly rejected by the State Department.

Perhaps a suitable third party with access to both the USA and Iran could seek to negotiate mutually agreed releases, whilst coming up with a formula to show that no-one has lost face. It is called diplomacy.

I must myself be diplomatic and thank calgacus for leading me to the above link