Yesterday we gathered at Clayton Woods Burial Ground near Hassocks to pay our respects to a longstanding Iraqi comrade, Riad El-Taher. It was a cold, rainy and windy November day and the weather reflected how we felt as the departure of our much loved comrade and friend.
Riad was unjustly expelled from the Labour Party in 2017 as a result of being fingered by Ivor Caplin, a right-wing Zionist and former MP for Hove and Labour Defence Minister at the time of Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. Riad was not given any form of hearing but was arbitrarily expelled under the ancien regime of Iain McNicoll. It is to be hoped that now the Left controls the NEC that Riad will be posthumously reinstated to the Labour Party.
It is an irony that someone who fought to his last breath against the criminal invasion of Iraq was expelled as a result of the petty vengeful and spiteful acts of a war criminal who bore responsibility for the invasion of Iraq. If there was any justice, it should have been Caplin who was gaoled for the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis as a result of the War for Oil in 2003.
When Riad was elected to the Hove Labour Party Executive Caplin, the current Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, the overseas wing of the racist Israeli Labour Party, moved to have him expelled summarily because his sentence, of 10 months, was held to be a ‘serious offence’ although it had long been spent. Under the reign of the Right and McNicol any sense of fairness or justice went out the window.
Riad’s gaoling in 2011 for having breached the UN sanctions on Iraq which had been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people was in itself an outrage. Even The Timesrecognised the injustice involved in Riad’s gaoling.
Riad was an active participant in the activities of Brighton and Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign and it was a cruel act of fate that he succumbed to cancer. Riad was until this year a member of the local Momentum Steering Committee and fully participated with others in building the Left in the local Labour Party. You can find Riad’s Facebook page here.
Clayton Woods Burial Ground, Hassocks, East Sussex
Riad recognised the role of Israel and Zionism, together with western imperialism in trying to subdivide the Arab world in order to make it that much weaker. For all his faults Saddam Hussein unlike the present leadership of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States wasn’t prepared to be a puppet in the West’s hands despite the enormity of his crimes against his own people.
I feel I am very fortunate to have known Riad and to have said my goodbyes to him at the Martlett hospice just over a week ago. Riad wanted people to make donations to the Martlett’s in memory of him and you can do so here. Below is an obituary by a close friend of Riad’s and fellow PSC member, Michael Foulkes.
Obituary of Riad El-Taher 1939-2018
Riad El-Taher, engineer and businessman, who died in Hove on 9th November, came to prominence with his anti-Iraq-sanctions campaign between 1991 and 2003. In 1993 he took the late Tam Dalyell, George Galloway and the ex-BBC correspondent Tim Llewellyn, to his homeland to see for themselves the disastrous effect of the UN sanctions on the Iraqi people, particularly children.
On their return Dalyell encouraged Riad to set up Friendship Across Frontiers (FAF) with the aim of raising the campaign’s profile, and as a result gained considerable support in parliament. Further fact-finding delegations included Albert Reynolds, ex-Taoiseach, Canon Andrew White, Sue Lloyd Roberts and the bishops of Coventry, Kingston, and Cyprus and the Gulf.
The US and UK used their veto on the Security Council to overrule measures designed to ameliorate the suffering of the Iraqi people and in response the Iraqi government introduced a sanctions-busting surcharge on oil exports which Riad agreed to pay.
He did so to help the Iraqi people, reasoning that as the US & UK were doing nothing to prevent oil smuggling they were not in earnest in outlawing the surcharge. His reasoning was miscalculated, as out of all those who acted similarly there were only ever two prosecutions Riad and his co-defendent. In 2011 he was convicted and imprisoned for this offence; his co-defendant was given a suspended sentence. The common factor was their contact with Saddam, and in Riad’s case, his outspoken criticism of the Blair government.
Dalyell described Riad’s imprisonment as ‘a process of nasty, political vengeance.’ It is difficult not to see his expulsion from the Labour Party in 2017, shortly after he was elected onto its Hove Constituency Executive Committee, in the same light. The sole reason given was his conviction six years earlier.
Riad wound up FAF shortly after his release from prison sold his house in Surrey and bought a flat in Hove. Here he enjoyed his retirement spending time with his family, engaging in politics, going to concerts, practising yoga and writing his life story. He was a committed member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. His activism and commitment to fighting injustice wherever it exists will be greatly missed.