Background Brief: Iran

Every now and then, suddenly things make a lot of sense when one gets to know the background story. Keith Hudson’s latest dispatch on the Iran situation is one such succinctly described brief. Here it is for the record.

Most people in England, I’m sure, haven’t the foggiest knowledge of Iran or of the UK’s behaviour towards it in the last few decades.

Ever since oil was discovered there at the turn of the 20th century, Iran has been the object of plunder and high politics. From then onwards, both Russia and the UK repeatedly tried to control the country. Then, during World War II, Germany needed Iran’s oil and, in order to prevent this, UK forces invaded Iran and opened a pipeline to Russia, then our ally in fighting Germany.

After WWII, British troops left Iran and elections were held. Mossadegh became President in 1951 and thereupon nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company with country-wide support. In 1953, the British Intelligence Services plotted with America’s Central Intelligence Agency, overthrew the Iranian government and installed Pahlavi as the Shah. For the next 20 years the Shah ruled with increasing ruthlessness via Savak, one of the nastiest intelligence agencies ever.

In 1979 a popular uprising against the Shah brought Ayatollah Khomeini out of exile in Paris and he became the new leader of, by now, an intensely Islamic-flavoured government in Tehran. By then, its British Empire gone, the UK had lost its clout in international affairs and America took over by massively equipping Saddam Hussein’s army in Iraq and giving him more than a nod and a wink to invade Iran — which he promptly did in 1980.

This was one of the longest wars in history — 1980-1988. Also, considering Iran’s modest population, this was one of the highest-fatality wars in history with up to one million Iranian deaths on the battlefield — at least 100,000 dying from chemical weapons long outlawed by international conventions. The chemicals for these weapons were supplied from America via — yes, you’ve guessed — Donald Rumsfeld, the late unlamented US Secretary of Defense under the present President.

Ever since the Germans tried to build a Berlin-Mosul railway a century ago, oil has been the main motivator of Western nation policy towards the Middle East, but most American and British people are totally unaware of this as they cheerfully pump petrol into their cars. They still don’t fully realise why Bush and Blair invaded Iraq in 2003 nor, in the latest foolish episode, why Bush persuaded Blair to trespass on Iranian waters in the hope of provoking Iran into excessive reaction, giving cause for powerful American response with, Bush naively assumed, world-wide support.

Prime Minister Blair may well deny that a letter of apology has now been sent to Iran but we can be certain that something has been written on paper — as indeed a senior official in Iran has said. It will turn up in the archives in future decades. But it’s now in the interest of both Blair and Ahmadinejad to draw a veil over the unfortunate affair. Everybody (in this country) will have forgotten about this within a few weeks.

However, as he prepares to leave office, Prime Minister Blair has been humiliated three times in as many weeks. Firstly, Sinn Fein and the DUP in Northern Ireland refused to accept his deadline for the formation of a new government there (and have even kicked out Blair’s NI Minister from his personal office); secondly, Blair was pretty crudely humiliated by Western European leaders when he proposed to sanction European exports to Iran; and thirdly, less crudely and more imaginatively, Iran has been able to reimpose the integrity of its own sea borders.

Will Blair face any more humiliations in his final weeks? Highly likely I’d have thought because too many other serious matters, such as the National Health Service, state education and housing for young people, are fast unravelling. But the three recent ones ought to have been enough to persuade Blair to be a little less publicly voluble and a little more sensible in the stream of bright ideas which proceed from that mythical sofa in 10 Downing Street.

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