Tony Greenstein | 18 November 2020 | Post Views:

Riad El-Taher, The Life & Times of an Oil Engineer, Anti-Imperialist, Anti-Zionist Peace Activist, and Comrade

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Book Review – O Daughter of Babylon – Journey of an Iraqi Patriot and What Chilcot  Didn’t Say

Two years ago Riad el-Taher died from cancer. In March 2017 Riad was expelled from the Labour Party, not for ‘anti-Semitism’, but because he had been imprisoned for having breached the West’s genocidal sanctions on Iraq which had killed half a million Iraq children. Riad was fingered to Labour’s crooked General Secretary, Iain McNicol by the corrupt former New Labour MP, Jewish Labour Movement member, Zionist and war criminal, Ivor Caplin.

Many of the victims of Labour’s witchhunt are well known, but Riad was one of the less well-known ones. Riad had come to Britain as a young man in order to train as a skilled engineer in the oil industry. When the West embarked on hostilities with Iraq Riad threw himself into campaigning first against the West’s murderous sanctions on Iraq and then into the anti-war movement.

Riad worked closely with three Labour MPs – Tony Benn, George Galloway and Tam Dalyell – in the fight against sanctions and in Friendship Across Frontiers, (FAF) the organisation he set up to oppose them. Jeremy Corbyn too was part of the campaign and must have known Riad yet he didn’t, as leader, lift a finger to help Riad.

In the interests of appeasing reactionary creatures like Caplin, who were busy stabbing him in the back, Riad was thrown under the bus by Corbyn. In any other circumstances the suspension of Corbyn by Keir Starmer might seem like poetic justice.

Shortly before he died, with the help of Caroline O’Reilly from Brighton & Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Frances Clark-Lowes, an autobiography covering the life of Riad, from prosperous oil engineer and businessman to anti-war activist, prisoner, peace campaigner and Labour Party member was published, edited by Francis Clark-Lowes.

The book has an introduction by the late Tam Dalyell, who was MP for Linlithgow (formerly West Lothian), an old Etonian, fierce anti-imperialist and idiosyncratic member of the Campaign Group. He was the first Father of the House, serving for 43 years as an MP, to be ordered to withdraw from the House of Commons by the right-wing Glaswegian Speaker Michael Martin (who would become an early casualty of the Parliamentary expenses scandal).

In his introduction Dalyell records the puzzlement of Tariq Aziz, Iraq’s Christian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister: We were dining you; you were dining us. How did all this [the First Gulf War and the sanctions] happen?’

Riad al-Taher

It is a familiar story of regimes that do the bidding of US imperialism and bask in their approval only to be undermined and overthrown when they get too big for their boots. Libya’s Colonel Ghadaffi and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad received similar treatment. The only government in the Middle East that hasn’t received this treatment, because of its special relationship with the United States, is Israel. To a lesser extent this is also true of Saudi Arabia.

It is a familiar story of regimes that do the bidding of US imperialism and bask in their approval only to be undermined and overthrown when they get too big for their boots. Libya’s Colonel Ghadaffi and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad received similar treatment. The only government in the Middle East that hasn’t received this treatment, because of its special relationship with the United States, is Israel. To a lesser extent this is also true of Saudi Arabia.

In the wake of the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis, the West encouraged Saddam Hussein to wage war on Iran. We supplied him with the weaponry he needed and Donald Rumsfield played the role of the West’s arms salesman. Germany was the major supplier of the chemical weapons used to repulse the Iranian military with the US coming in second. Later these weapons were used to murder 5,000 Kurds at Halabja. The fact that these same chemical weapons, which had long been destroyed by 2002/3, provided the pretext for the invasion of Iraq by Britain and the United States in 2003 demonstrates the rank hypocrisy of western imperialism.

The US Ambassador in Baghdad, April Glaspie, gave the green light to Saddam to invade Kuwait in August 1990, promising that there would be no retaliation and that the US had no opinion on their dispute with Kuwait. A week later Saddam attacked and the rest is history.

Although Tariq Aziz was puzzled, the question is not a difficult one to answer. Having used Iraq to subdue Iran, whose clerical regime had overthrown the Shah, the US then turned on the Iraqi regime which was also too independent for their liking. Iraq, just like Iran today, was seen as a threat to the US and Israel’s hegemony.

Aziz’s words to Dalyell were to prove prophetic:

People in the West may think that Saddam and I are awful – but if you get rid of us, what will follow will be far, far worse.

And so it has proved. ‘Regime change’ was always justified in terms of how terrible a regime was. MPs like war monger Anne Clwyd bought into the idea of Saddam as a unique monster amongst angels. But it was all a bloody hypocritical charade. Certainly Saddam’s Iraq was a vicious and repressive, anti-communist police state but the West has never objected to such regimes on principle, as we can see with Saudi Arabia and Egypt today.

Ivor Caplin, the Zionist former MP who fingered Riad to the Labour Party mafia

The real reason for the attack on Iraq, as Riad repeatedly pointed out, was that despite attacking Iran with the blessing of the West, the Baathist regime still maintained its independence from the United States. Unlike the Gulf regimes and Saudi Arabia it wasn’t a client regime. Saddam Hussein’s fatal mistake was to believe that in exchange for acting as the West’s mercenary he would be allowed free reign to attack Kuwait, a client regime that the West had created through lines drawn in the sand.

It has to be emphasised that Kuwait was an artificial creation of British imperialism. The very name means ‘small human settlement.’ It was a small village on the Persian Gulf, a district of Basra in the Ottoman Empire. It was created as a separate entity in 1921/22 by the British with the sole purpose of denying Iraq access to the Persian Gulf. In 1920 the Iraq Petroleum Company had been created, with 95% of the shares going to Britain, France and the United States.

When the Kuwaiti Sheikh was forced to agree, in 1938, to a Legislative Council, the members promptly voted unanimously to demand unification with Iraq. In March 1939 there was a popular uprising of Kuwaiti youth, the Free Kuwaiti movement, demanding unity with Iraq. It was savagely put down by the Kuwaiti Sheikh with the military support of the British. [see Mechanisms of Western Domination: A Short History of Iraq and Kuwait, David Klein]

The Iraqi state under Saddam Hussein provided a comprehensive free health care service for Iraqis and services such as water and electricity were efficient. The state was certainly repressive but it was also efficient in delivering services such as education. All of this was destroyed by the imperialist invasion which targeted and destroyed water treatment plants and power stations. When the US invaded its troops protected the oil industry and permitted the national museum, containing priceless artifacts dating back thousands of years, to be looted and destroyed.

Despite its propaganda about the invasion in 2003 being a ‘war for democracy’ it was always about one thing only, control of Iraq’s oil resources. As soon as the United States installed itself, it set about reversing the nationalilsation of the oil industry.

The title of this book is taken from Psalm 137 in which the Jewish exiles, after the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, lament their plight and promise vengeance: ‘By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion’ ending with

‘Oh daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!’

The Iraqi Jewish community became one of the largest, richest and most cultured communities in the Middle East as well as the world’s oldest Jewish community. There are two versions of the Talmud, the source of halakah, the rabbinical interpretation of the Bible – the Jerusalem and the Babylonian Talmud. It is the latter which is the authoritative version,

When the State of Israel was established the Zionists set about destroying this Jewish community. They were needed because Israel required a Jewish working class to service the Ashkenazi Zionist ruling class. Zionist agents, who had served in the British army and Haganah in Iraq during the war had accumulated considerable amounts of arms which they stored in places such as synagogues. During 1950 and 1951 bombs were thrown outside places which Jews frequented such as coffee shops, cultural meeting places and even a synagogue, Masuda Shemtov. The Zionists sought to simulate anti-Semitism in order to ‘encourage’ Jewish emigration from Iraq. [See The Zionist Destruction of the Iraqi Jewish Community and Prophets in Babylon, Marion Woolfson] The result was that by the end of 1951 just 5,000 out of Iraq’s 120,000 Jews remained in the country.

Riad was born in Basra in southern Iraq between 1939 and 1941, his actual birthday is unknown. In 1956 he came to England to study for a diploma in engineering at Southend Technical College. Shortly afterwards he attended a demonstration in London against the Suez invasion at which Aneurin Bevan and Tony Benn spoke. In 1959 Riad came to Brighton to study for a higher diploma in engineering. After graduating in 1961 Riad went to the Central Electricity Engineering Board for his post-graduate studies and in 1962 he got married to Doreen Saunders, a fellow student in Southend.

On returning to Iraq, Riad obtained work at a new Russian built power station in Basra as an engineer.  He was to spend his next 8 years working for the Iraqi Petroleum Company. Despite his qualifications he came up repeatedly against British expatriates whose main interest was in preserving an all White European monopoly on skilled jobs. One aspect of maintaining neo-colonial control of the oil industry in the Middle East was maintaining an unofficial colour bar.

Riad describes how the IPC had a vested interest in producing the minimum amount of oil in order to keep the Iraqi government poor and weak. That way the role of foreign oil companies in running Iraq’s oil production could be maintained.

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Following the nationalist coup in 1958 and the ousting of the British puppet Nuri e-Said and King Faisal, the drive was on for the Iraqisation of the oil industry. Riad describes how he ‘experienced considerable hardship, abuse and discrimination at the hands of the British staff.’ (16) His wife was allowed to join the British club in Basra, he was not.

Riad described one incident in which his British supervisor insisted that he was irreplaceable. It was only when his request for annual leave was rejected because he could not be replaced that Riad was promoted!  At that point he was granted 3 months leave only to find, when he came back, that it was Riad who was in charge!

In 1963 the Baathists came to power in a CIA-backed coup and their protégé was none other than Saddam Hussein! In Revealed: how the West set Saddam on the bloody road to power Patrick Cockburn wrote that

The death lists were drawn up in CIA stations across the Middle East with the help of Iraqi exiles. In Egypt the agency was helped by an Egyptian intelligence officer who got much of his information from Saddam Hussein living in exile in Cairo… 

As the CIA lists reached Baghdad the result was a massacre of extraordinary ferocity. Pregnant women and old men were killed, some tortured to death in front of their children. Mr Aburish says: “Saddam Hussein, who had rushed back to Iraq from exile in Cairo to join the victors, was personally involved in the torture of leftists in the separate detention centres for the fellaheen [peasants] and the muthaqafeen, or educated class.”

In 1970 Riad illegally emigrated from the country. After starting work for Shell he was sent to Kuwait where expatriate Britons were in charge. Kuwait had no equivalent to Iraqisation and he met the same problem of racism during work.

As a skilled engineer with many contacts it wasn’t long before Riad set himself up as a consultant and prosperous businessman before moving to the New Forest in 1984 to set up a poultry farm.

This was the time of the Iran-Iraq war, ‘the biggest mistake it, or indeed Iran, ever made. This pointless conflict was financed and encouraged by the Western world, Russia and China.’

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on 2nd August 1990 ‘marked a crucial turning point in my life.’ Thus began the institution of crippling sanctions which marked Riad’s entrance into British politics.

Riad described the atrocity propaganda which accompanied the West’s campaign against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. One particularly famous incident was the appearance on US TV of a distraught Kuwaiti woman who claimed to have seen Kuwaiti babies being thrown out of their incubators by Iraq’s military. It was only months later that two Philipino nurses who had worked at the hospital revealed that no babies were thrown out of incubators and that the distressed Kuwiti ‘nurse’ had never worked there. She was in fact a member of the Kuwaiti ruling family!

Throughout the book Riad calls Israel ‘the Zionist entity’. Riad was a fierce anti-Zionist who refused to recognise its legitimacy. At times though he ascribes too much power to Israel. E.g. in the first Gulf War, in order to cement its alliance with the Arab states, Israel was told, notwithstanding Iraqi missile attacks, not to take any action that would imperil the imperialist alliance with the Arab countries.

Riad was accused by the Blairites and people like Ann Clywd as being a Saddam apologist. This is untrue. He was an Iraqi nationalist and fiercely resented the devastation of his country. His story is an antidote to the imperialist narrative which portrayed Saddam Hussein as a one-dimensional monster. That Saddam Hussein was a brutal and repressive dictator is not in doubt but he was the creation of the CIA.

Riad makes a number of criticisms of Saddam Hussein, not least the persecution of Iraqis of Iranian origin. (p. 305) However it would be fair to say that Riad is guilty of overlooking the persecution of the workers’ movement and the destruction of democratic parties, as well as the use of torture and murder by the ruthless Baathist regime. Riad tended only to see the regime’s achievements without seeing the cost. As Riad put it:

‘I had no illusions about the President; he was a man who ruled with an iron hand. So, however was Stalin, but Churchill didn’t shy away from a friendly relationship with him.’ (p.305)

Riad described how Iraq was the only oil-producing country where technology transfer occurred in the area of engineering design and how, after nationalisation in 1972 Iraq’s Ministry of Oil made strenuous efforts to promote engineering design. It was this economic nationalism, the desire to achieve economic independence and not WMD which were behind western sanctions and the 2003 invasion.

Riad had no hesitation in branding Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait as an unbridled mistake. This was because:

‘Saddam deluded himself that he was the supreme leader who could challenge and win against the regional power Iran. He was duped by the US into attacking this neighbouring country and the Iraqi people paid for the most stupid mistake of his life with eight years of carnage and impoverishment.’ (53)

Riad threw himself into the campaign against sanctions on Iraq. He approached Tam Dalyell MP and persuaded him to come to Iraq to see for himself the devastation that had been wrought. As a columnist for New Scientist Dalyell was already aware of the plight of Iraqi children from a report by Harvard’s Medical School which described how

‘a country famous for its medicine… had been reduced to a chronic shortage of drugs and sanction were hitting the vulnerable, young and old.’

Because of his contacts with Saddam and the ruling circles in Iraq from his days in the oil industry, Riad was able to arrange the visit of Tam Dalyell, George Galloway and Tim Llewellyn, an ex-BBC Middle East reporter, to Iraq to see for themselves the devastation wrought by sanctions. It was not an easy trip as there were no flights to Baghdad. Instead they had to fly to Amman and from there make an arduous journey by car through the desert to Baghdad.

Riad organised a number of such delegations to Iraq. One such was for the late Sue Lloyd-Roberts, a BBC journalist, Tam Dalyell and Albert Reynolds, the ex-Taoiseach of Ireland.

In 1993 Riad set up Friendship Across Frontiers, at Tam’s suggestion, to campaign against sanctions. It was supported by 32 MPs, including 22 Labour and 5 Tories. In 1997 Labour was elected to power and Riad described how

‘I had high hopes that a Labour government, with its internationalist and anti-imperial traditions, augured well for Iraq.’

He was to be disappointed. Blair ‘soon revealed himself to be an ardent supporter of US policy and also of the Zionist entity.’

As part of the run-up to the invasion the US Congress passed in 1998 the Iraq Liberation Act. The Blair government were their willing collaborators. Foremost amongst the supporters of the sanctions was former firebrand and Anti-Apartheid activist Peter Hain, by now a Foreign Office minister. During a debate on Iraq Hain stated that

‘The recent documentary produced by John Pilger tried to show that sanctions are responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people…. It is a lie propagated by Saddam Hussein and his apologists.’  

Hain was referring to ‘Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq’.

Because Riad knew various members of the government from his oil industry days he was introduced to Saddam Hussein about whom he remarked that ‘those whom the gods wish to destroy they first drive mad’. And western policy had certainly driven Saddam mad.

Riad’s assessment of Saddam and Baathist rule was undoubtedly optimistic and favourable however it is not true that Riad was a Saddam stooge. He wrote:

‘Yes Saddam and his political party did a lot of harm but equally they contributed to many popular measures… the loyalty of ministers and officials went right to the top. Following Saddam’s example they were accountable to themselves and to the people. Corruption was largely eliminated.’

Riad undoubtedly turned a blind eye to Saddam’s ruthless elimination of opponents and fierce repression of the workers’ movement, because of the imperialist attack on his country. However given the one-sided and hypocritical imperialist press that left no  stone unturned in its damnation of Saddam, its former favourite, this is not surprising.

A similar thing happened in 1983 with the invasion of the Falklands/ Malvinas by the Argentinian Junta. An anti-communist regime which, like Pinochet in Chile Thatcher had unequivocally supported, suddenly became a fascist monster! British newspapers which had never uttered a word of criticism about its murder of 30,000 leftists and the torture of thousands more, suddenly woke up to the Junta’s human rights abuses.

Riad was of the opinion that

‘Saddam’s support for the Palestinians was, unlike that of other Arab leaders, consistent and generous  and inspired admiration across the Arab and Muslim world.’

Unfortunately Riad didn’t see that Saddam’s ‘support’ for the Palestinians was not quite as generous as he made out. Saddam saw support for the Palestinians as a means of gaining the support of the Arab masses in his battle against the United States and Britain.

Riad forgot that Saddam’s ‘support’ including his sheltering of rogue PLO official Abu Nadel, whose attempted assassination of Israeli Ambassador Shlomo Argov in London in 1982 provided the pretext for the invasion of Lebanon. Saddam, like the Syrian regime, maintained its own faction within the PLO, in this case the Arab Liberation Front.

In the run-up to the invasion the West castigated Saddam for the mass murder of 5,000 Kurds at Halabja in 1988. However, at the time, the CIA blamed it on Iran. I can remember the BBC at the time describing it as an ‘alleged’ attack by Iraq.

After the first Gulf War in 1990 the UN imposed crippling sanctions on Iraq which devastated the country. It wasn’t the regime which was most affected but children and poor people. The purpose of the sanctions was to degrade the economy and turn the people against the regime.

When Madeline Albright, the US Secretary of State was interviewed by Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes, Stahl put it to her that:

‘We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?’

To which Albright replied:

‘I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.’ (6.12.96.) page 303.

The purpose of the sanctions wasn’t to ensure that Iraq conformed to international law and rid itself of the weapons of mass destruction that the West had supplied but a means of waging war by other means. They were the softening up process that laid the basis for the invasion.

By Resolution 687 of 3rd April 1991, the UN Security Council established the terms and conditions for a formal cease-fire between Iraq and the UN. On 18 April 1991 there was established by the Security Council the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the weapon inspectors. From the start, as the UN later admitted, UNSCOM directly facilitated the creation of an intelligence system for the United States in violation of its mandate.

Realising that if the inspectors took their job too seriously it would weaken the case for war, neo-con Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz charged the CIA to investigate Hans Blix, the head of the Inspection Commission.

It was into this scenario that Riad entered. Riad, because of his previous connections, became involved in the UN’s Oil For Sanctions programme. He argued that he did this, not for the money he earned but because he wished to help his fellow countrymen.

The regime soon imposed a ‘surcharge’ on each barrel of oil ‘lifted’ as a way of earning foreign currency though they later dropped it as it was more profitable directing its exports via Jordan whose economy would have collapsed if sanctions had prevented it trading.

As Riad observed, one of the consequences of the build up to the war was the ‘working alliance’ between the ‘Great Satan’ the USA and a member of the ‘axis of evil’ Iran. The USA’s attack on the Baathist regime could not help but be of assistance to Iran strategically. It also ensured that Iran, which armed and equipped the Badr Brigades and other sectarian militia, confessionalised the struggle against the USA.

Riad described a meeting in the summer of 2002 between Ahmad Chalabi, a right-wing Iraqi exile and US protégé and an Iranian Ayatollah Abdul-Azis al-Hakim and Donald Rumsfeld with Dick Cheney, the Vice-President joining them via video conferencing.

Riad saw the evil influence of Israel everywhere. However although it gave nominal support to the attack on Iraq, Israel was more concerned about the strengthening of Iran. I have seen no evidence that Israel played any part in the decision of the United States to invade. Riad was right to say that the primary motivation was the US’s determination to regain control of Iraq’s oil but he was wrong to suggest that protection of the ‘Zionist entity’ figured prominently.

Those who paid surcharges for oil lifts including Riad, were acting illegally but this was in the context of a sanctions regime which was deliberately killing thousands of Iraqis. However this intentional killing was not illegal. In addition the British and the Americans were turning a blind eye to those paying the surcharge and in the end only Riad was singled out for prosecution by the Serious Fraud Office. The judge at Riad’s trial maintained that his primary motive for breaking UN sanctions had been private gain but this was a lie. Even The Times raised the unfair prosecution of Riad and it was probably the general unease at the prosecution which led to the Court of Appeal’s reduction by 2 months of his 10 months sentence.

Riad takes us into the labyrinthine methods of Blair’s drive to war, including what became known as the ‘dodgy dossier’, which had been ‘borrowed’ from a graduate student in California to justify making war on Iraq. Robin Cook described it as ‘the most extraordinary failure of British intelligence.’

Riad describes the establishment of the Stop the War Coalition on 21st September 2001, which FAF was involved with. As well as being an anti-war activist Riad functioned as an unofficial liaison between the Iraqi regime and the anti-war movement. He helped facilitate Tony Benn’s visit to Iraq shortly prior to the invasion.

An estimated 30,000 Iraqi combatants and 7,000 civilians died in the 2003 invasion compared to 196 of the coalition. Riad describes in all its gory details the catastrophe that was the Occupation. In particular the disaster that was ‘de-Baathification.’ It was modeled on de-Nazification in Germany except that Baathism wasn’t the equivalent of Nazism ideologically or politically.

This fateful decision, which caused the removal within a month of America’s first plenipotentiary, Jay Garner, and his replacement by Paul Bremer, rebounded on the Americans. It meant the complete disbandment of the Iraq army. Thousands of Sunni soldiers and technicians were rendered unemployed together with their weaponry. It was a recipe for sectarianism as the Shi’ite majority were played off against the formerly Sunni administrators. It was this decision that led to the creation of Al Qaeda in Iraq which morphed into ISIS.

There had been no post-occupation planning. De-baathification had been the brain child of 2 neo-cons – Douglas Feith and Ahmed Chalabi, an exile puppet of the Americans who had no base of support in Iraq. Together with Wolfowitz, Cheney and Richard Perle, a former head of the CIA, they set the seal on the bloodshed that followed.

The CIA station chief in Baghdad warned Bremer that firing the technicians who operated the electric, transportation and water infrastructure of the country would drive up to 50,000 Baathists underground and that in 6 months they would regret this decision. As a result of the ensuing violence, by early 2006 the Lancet estimated that ‘excess deaths’ in Iraq were 654,965 compared to less than 5,000 coalition deaths.

Two years ago, on a wintry day in November, Riad was buried with his friends and comrades looking on

One result of America’s divide and rule policy was that Iraq’s religious minorities – Christians, Sabians and Turkomans – became targets for the sectarian militia. Riad described how the American occupation regime’s policies amounted to an intellectual cleansing of the country. ‘The vacuum created by the purging of Sunnis in high positions was filled by Shias loyal to Iran.’ (227)

FAF which had been originally founded to campaign against the sanctions now faced the occupation of Iraq. Tam Dalyell, its main supporter, retired from parliament in 2005. Fortunately Harry Cohen, an anti-Zionist Jewish MP, agreed to become a second patron of FAF. Riad was living proof that the Zionist accusation of ‘anti-Semitism’ against its opponents was a lie.

Riad described how the Americans lost no time in drafting a new oil law for Iraq. It allowed production share agreements with foreign oil companies. A poll showed that 63% of Iraqis opposed this law, but American democracy did not include matters of the economy.

David Whyte in the British Journal of Criminology, wrote that:

The scale and intensity of the appropriation of Iraqi oil revenue makes the 2003 invasion one of the most audacious and spectacular crimes of theft in modern history. The institutionalization of corporate corruption that followed the invasion can only be understood within the context of the coalition forces’ contempt for universal principles of international law enshrined in the Hague and Geneva treaties.’ (p.212)

As Riad remarked of Saddam:

we live in a hypocritical world in which extreme violence is condemned with great moral self-righteousness by the very people who initiate yet greater violence and destruction, and all in the name of democracy and human rights.

Riad was particularly moved by the capture and sentencing to death in 2010 of Tariq Aziz, who was not part of the regime’s apparatus of terror. He was a Christian and a suave diplomat rather than someone with real power. Because of international pressure Aziz was not executed but allowed to die of cancer.

Riad describes what he called a tale of two trials. Firstly that of Blair before the Chilcott Inquiry and then himself at Southwark Crown Court. Unfortunately the wrong person was sent to prison.

The Chilcott Inquiry took some 7 years to report and there is no doubt that when it did finally report with its over 2 million largely unread words, the steam had gone out of the anti-war campaign.

Riad heavily criticised the unreality of Chilcott for arguing that oil and Palestine didn’t fit within his remit. It was abundantly clear that oil and strategic hubris were the main reasons for the invasion.

The second trial was of Riad himself. Riad was singled out amongst the thousands who breached the UN sanctions regime, itself a breach of international law, for punishment because of his anti-war activities.

On 7th August 2008 Riad and his then partner, Charmaine, were woken by more than 20 police officers early in the morning. Between March 2010 and 2011 Riad was tried. As he remarked

If what I did was considered worthy of prosecution, then the charge should have been applied to all those who lifted oil under the oil-for-food programme during the period between 2000 and 2002, not to me and my co-Defendant alone. After all, the SFO had only to look at the Volcker Report to know who the main culprits were.

When Deputy First Secretary at the British mission in New York, Carne Ross, was cross-examined, he confirmed that the government had turned a blind-eye to the payment of a surcharge. Riad’s legal team however agreed to his trial being linked to that of a Pakistani oil-trader, Aftab Hasan. ‘Unlike his position, mine was one of principle and patriotism’.

Hasan was in it for the money, unlike Riad, so it was a particularly stupid decision of his legal team. As a result Riad was coerced into pleading guilty. The Judge let it be known that if he did not plead guilty and was convicted he could get up to 7 years in prison. That is British justice.

Not only did Riad serve a few months in prison, mainly Wandsworth but also Ford in West Sussex but he was ordered to pay £500,000 ‘compensation’.

The final injustice was being expelled on a trumped up pretext from the Labour Party. The recent EHRC Report complains that Corbyn’s team interfered in some of the disciplinary proceedings. The real complaint should be that Corbyn, in his terminal stupidity, refused to intervene in cases like that of Riad and instead allowed crooked McNicol, the General Secretary, to harass his supporters.

Peter Kyle – Racist Labour MP for Hove and Vice Chair Labour Friends of Israel – this liar said he opposed the Gaza blockade but this was untrue

Riad had only recently been elected to the General Committee of Hove Labour Party and as someone on the left was seen by Caplin as a threat to his erstwhile boyfriend, the current MP Peter Kyle. Caplin, a crook who had figured prominently in the parliamentary expenses scandal, refused to pay back the £18,000 that he owed. This however was not deemed worthy of expulsion.

Caplin had been a junior Defence Minister in 2003 at the time of the Iraq War. I can remember him cowering in his office at Portslade Town Hall whilst we were outside protesting. Riad had fought and taken risks, including serving a prison sentence, in order to undo the damage caused by Caplin and New Labour. The failure of Corbyn and the Momentum left to squash McNicol’s tawdry expulsion, without anything like a hearing, is a testament to how bankrupt they were.

Riad was a fervent opponent of Zionism but his analysis of the Israeli state often attributed to it powers it didn’t have. Riad called the Arab Spring ‘the Arab disaster’, which it did indeed turn out to be, but that was because of the fierce counter-reaction and in particular the efforts of the Saudis and the Gulf regimes to confessionalise the struggle of the Syrian people. However he was wrong to attribute the fall of Egypt’s President Mubarak to the belief by Israel that he was a ‘spent force’. Israel’s leaders, including the Zionist ‘dove’ Shimon Peres expressed their anguish at Mubarak’s ousting and no doubt played a part in the overthrow of the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

Riad ends the book with a poem by Karen Audin, his yoga teacher and lover, which gave him comfort while in prison:

They may have taken away my liberty
But there is a peaceful place
That I can see
So when at times it seems too much
I know I can just get in touch
With that stillness that resides in me
The place where I am always free.

Despite his ordeals Riad found friendship and comradeship amongst fellow party members in Brighton and in Brighton & Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign.  There will always be a place in our hearts for our steadfast comrade Riad el-Taher.

Tony Greenstein

Riad’s book can be ordered from New Generation Publishing, 2018, ISBN 978-1-78955-323-9 (hardback) & ISBN 978-1-78955-3122-2 (paperback).

Prices on Amazon are £23.99 hardback and £17.99 paperback. However you can also order it from Francis Clark-Lowes, on special offer while stocks last, at the following prices by contacting [email protected]

Hardback without pictures: £10 + £3 p&p within the UK (online link to pictures)

Paperback without pictures £6 + £3 p&p within the UK (online link to pictures)

Paperback with pictures £12 + £3 p&p within the UK

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1 Comment

  1. Judy Granville on 19/11/2020 at 9:49am

    Excellent review. A valuable addition itself to Riad’s autobiography. Judy

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