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Labour had a problem with Iraq. The solution: set up a bogus body called Labour Friends of Iraq, and pretend that it represents the Iraqi working class...

With friends like these, who needs enemies?


Three years after the invasion of Iraq, with no end in sight to the resistance against the occupiers or to the opposition at home, how has Blair managed to manipulate opposition within his party and within trade unions? How has he managed to make a major foreign policy speech en-dorsing all of the worst features of the so-called US neo-cons and get away with it?

Ever heard of Labour Friends of Iraq? It is Labour's successor organisation to "Indict". Indict itself was set up by convicted fraudster Ahmad Chalabi, the CIA's man in Iraq, who has lived outside of Iraq for 35 years and was funded by the US government – $2 million to Indict and $100 million to Chalabi. Indict's chairman, Ann Clwyd, also chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party, is now Joint President of Labour Friends of Iraq. So what is it and where did it come from?

In the run-up to the Labour Party Conference in September 2004, Blair was concerned his attempt to launch his general election campaign at the conference would be overshadowed by events in Iraq and by trade union opposition to the war at the conference. There was a general trade union position calling for the immediate withdrawal of British troops.

At the conference was a motion calling for an early date to be set for troop withdrawal from Iraq, and a statement from the Labour Party National Executive Committee calling for a very vague, distant and conditional troop withdrawal, which in effect meant absolutely nothing, even if the government took any notice of it. The problem for Blair was how to get the trade unions to vote against their own policies and for the meaningless NEC statement. Even more important, how could he neutralise their opposition to the war and persuade them to get their hands dirty by active involvement in it?

Organisations of Iraqi émigrés in London, in particular Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, the Pentagon's man Alawi and his Iraqi National Accord (INA), and the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) had long been under the scrutiny and penetration of both British and US intelligence services and were actively involved in the plans for invasion.

The ICP, while not openly supporting invasion, wanted a piece of the action when it had succeeded. After the invasion, the US governor in Iraq's puppet 'Authority' included all three organisations and gave sole union recognition rights to the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), a creation of the INA and ICP, although established Iraqi trade unions continued to struggle on without this recognition.
And now the lying starts again...
Blair's speech to the Foreign Policy Centre in London on 21 March on Iran presented a pretext for further military aggressions aimed at "regime change". As with his Chicago speech of 1999 before the attack on Yugoslavia and his speech to the US Congress in July 2003 before the attack on Iraq, he was trying to legitimise war, this time against Iran. And, in an echo of the false arguments used to justify the aggression against Iraq, Blair's speech implied that there are links between Iran and al-Qaeda.

British diplomat John Sawers has been trying to secure the support of others against Iran. In a confidential note addressed to his counterparts in France, Germany and the US he urged a united offensive to secure "a United Nations resolution that would open the way for punitive sanctions and even the use of force if Iran were to refuse to halt its controversial nuclear programme". Sawers set out Blair's proposals for upgrading the case against Iran so as "to bind Russia and China into agreeing to further measures that will be taken by the Security Council should the Iranians fail to engage positively ... We would not, at this stage, want to be explicit about what would be involved then."

Defence Secretary John Reid has called for wholesale changes in the international law banning aggression, demanding rights to carry out pre-emptive strikes and "humanitarian" intervention. This would tear up the UN Charter, which outlaws all aggression. Reid also wants to rewrite the Geneva Conventions, rewriting them so as to legitimise indefinite detention, international rendition and the barbaric treatment of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram and other torture centres.

He has also alleged that we face a new type of terrorism which knows no constraints. "The enemy our parents and grandparents faced in the first and second world wars wore a different uniform to theirs, but had aims and, by and large, had conduct they could understand. The enemy fought much as we fought; his forces were structured in much the same way. And, by and large, they accepted the same conventions." An extraordinary statement to make in light of the scale and nature of Nazi brutality and slaughter!

Listen to communists?
Hardly surprising, then, that Blair should urge British trade unions to listen to Iraqi communists and trade unionists before deciding how to vote at the 2004 Labour Party Conference. Can you remember another occasion when a Labour leader urged people to listen to communists or trade unionists?

Ann Clwyd duly paraded the IFTU at the Labour Party conference (that's right, the conference of the ruling party of the occupying power) and they dutifully opposed the withdrawal of British troops from their country. According to one of the speakers, Abdullah Muhsin, "Foreigners came to our country without asking, why should they leave without asking?", although their own political organisations had been involved in strategic discussions on the invasion. This is tantamount to saying that the British people have no right to demand the immediate withdrawal of British troops from Iraq!

According to Tony Woodley, General Secretary of the T&GWU, "It was the clear advice from Abdullah Muhsin which tipped the balance." The unions obediently supported the Labour Party NEC statement and this set off a new chain of events. Suddenly, there was a new missionary zeal. Labour Friends of Iraq was then set up by the Labour Party to spread the values of social democracy and an independent labour movement to the "grassroots of Iraqi society". Imagine, for one moment, if Germany, after invading Norway, had set up 'Nazi Friends of Norway' to spread the values of the ruling party of the occupying power. Or maybe a US 'Republican Friends of Vietnam'.

Now the invasion was redefined as "liberation from fascism". A TUC delegation visited Iraq (or at least just a tiny little safe part of Iraqi Kurdistan) including John Lloyd, Editor of the FT Magazine, who has declared that he is not ashamed to be called a neo-con. He was one of a new breed of British neo-con journalists calling proudly for a neo-con British foreign policy to intervene against "oppressive" governments and to spread democracy as well as calling for support for Iraqi "trade unionists". One of them, Nick Cohen of the Observer, described the 2 million who marched against the war in 2003 as "gormless". Opponents of the war have been accused of association with fascists.

The British government made £250,000 available for training Iraqi trade union reps in neighbouring Jordan. Unison duly obliged and began the training. Meanwhile, the US government watched this with envy. Faced with mounting opposition to the war at home, they decided to follow the British model. The US government set up a Solidarity Centre in Iraq funded by USAID. It too would train the Iraqi "trade unionists" to head off trade union opposition at home. Neither of these training operations could be undertaken without the oversight of both British and US intelligence services. This is, after all, a war. Eventually, but not surprisingly, the same "trade unionists" started to appear at both the British and US training sessions. You can hardly blame them. Most Iraqis would give anything for a week or two out of the country in a nice hotel in Amman. Anyway, there is no way of measuring the impact of the training, or, indeed, if any trade union work is undertaken.

Meanwhile Dave Anderson, a former President of Unison and current Labour MP, became Chairman of Labour Friends of Iraq. In the manner of a benign colonial governor, he recently raised his concerns in the House of Commons about the new Iraqi Labour Law that resulted in the confiscation of union funds, introduced by the Iraqi puppet government. Unfortunately, his party and government call the puppet government sovereign and say that they cannot intervene. (They are in fact probably jealous of that law.)

They could of course tell him that it's simply a question of democracy – the sponsors of the IFTU lost the "election" to Islamic fundamentalists. He has now been on a fact-finding tour of Iraq (all right, a tiny part of Iraqi Kurdistan) as guest of the Kurdistan Workers Federation, part of the KDP/PUK alliance that marched alongside invading US troops in 2003, identifying targets for them as they went. British trade unions will no doubt be subject to some more neo-con rhetoric on his return.

Meanwhile, although US neo-cons have been in decline, and David Aaronovitch and Johan Hari have recanted their support for the war, the neo-con march goes on. They have now launched the "Euston Manifesto", in essence a pro market, pro military intervention, anti communist, anti anti-Americanism – yes that's two 'antis', anti anti-imperialism – again that's two 'antis', and pro rewriting history manifesto.

It is described as a "Renewal of Progressive Politics" and is being promoted on the Labour Friends of Iraq website. They appear to be trying to emulate the now discredited "Project for a New American Century", the classic US neo-con manifesto. In fact, the Euston Manifesto is remarkably similar to Blair's recent foreign policy speech. A good job nobody listens to them except Blair and the blogger...or do they?