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Life Experience

Important and fascinating book about Iraq

Iraq, its breakup and exploitation by Western powers, is described in this important and fascinating book by Riad El Taher, O Daughter of Babylon.

Riad El-Taher, born in Iraq tells the story of his remarkable life: how he came to Britain as a teenager and trained as an engineer and worked for a number of engineering companies in the UK. He became a pioneering engineer working on design and development for the North Sea Norwegian off-shore oil fields. He also worked in oil production in Iraq and Kuwait.

Successful businessman

He started his own companies, organising oil production and supplying equipment to oil producers. For a while he employed hundreds of people and became very rich, until catastrophes in the Middle East destroyed his main business overnight.

He became a British citizen in 1980.

Forward-looking farmer

When he returned to Iraq he became a farmer operating on ecological principles. Also, for a while he developed a free-range poultry farm in the New Forest in the UK but concluded such a farm could not operate economically at that time.

Iraq under threat

Riad El-Taher was distressed by what was happening to his homeland and so decided to transfer his energies from running a business to working to end the deeply misguided and destructive sanctions that the UN imposed on Iraq and later to prevent the threatened 2003 war against Iraq. He campaigned tirelessly for years on behalf of Iraq and was interviewed many times on British and American television. He was a speaker at major anti-war rallies in the UK.

Outspoken critic

In his work and later campaigning he met businessmen, senior officials and politicians in Middle Eastern countries (including Saddam Hussein) and British politicians. He was an outspoken and fearless critic of many of the people he met and the policies which he believed were so ill-conceived.
He was dismayed by the character of Arabs that he attempted to work with and what he considered to be the Islamic mindset.

Tragic conclusion

His story is tragic. In spite of his enormous energy and his passionate work to save Iraq from destruction he went from riches to rags and ended up in 2011 in a British prison for infringing UN Oil Sanctions. He claimed that major oil companies were doing similar things but were never prosecuted.

He wrote much of his book in prison but it needed additional work to prepare it for publication. His friend, Francis Clark-Lowes undertook this considerable task.

This important story

Riad’s story is partly personal and his many observations along the way, his idealism, courage, energy and what he acknowledged as his naivety make the whole book a fascinating read, but perhaps its main value is in shedding light on the criminal behaviour of western powers, particularly Britain and the US in bringing about the destruction of a functioning and prosperous society with a generous welfare state. See explanation below: Iraq, international law and the consequences of western action

International law is very clear in outlawing starting a war against a country which is not engaged in warlike activity against it. Iraq, it was clear to the tens of millions around the world who protested against the war that Iraq was not a threat to any country.

The negative aspects of life in Iraq have been well rehearsed in our media. Iraq was run as a ruthless dictatorship with consequent fear and violence. Our media neglected to mention the positive elements in Iraq.

The wars against Iraq and the UN sanctions have been beyond tragedy for the people of Iraq. They have also had terrible repercussions for the west where we are still paying the price in the form of the threat of terrorism. How easy it was to pass through airport security before the 2003 attack on Iraq! The middle east is still unstable and suffering, producing millions of refuges. We are also living with the guilt and shame of what was done in our name. 

Some of Riad El-Taher’s observations in

O Daughter of Babylon

Consequences of the 2003 US/UK invasion of Iraq and earlier western actions 

Loss of the intellectual elite

“The mass immigration, estimated at a figure of around 4.5 million, has been actively assisted by the US and UK occupiers who were particularly keen to facilitate the departure of Christians and professionals. It has been reported that the majority of the teaching staff of the elite Saddam university has moved to the US; that is to say, those who were not assassinated in the chaos which followed the war. Power generation, water purification, and sewage treatment is now as bad as it was in the worst days of sanctions, thanks to precision bombing, civil unrest and neglect by the occupiers. The transport sector is equally degraded, and food production has fallen.” (p1/2)

The road to democracy

“ What is democracy? I believe the basic minimum is a parliamentary system with free elections and secret ballots, a free press, free markets, and the unshackling of citizens from limitations to their development such as lack of education and healthcare. Iraq before 2003, like Libya before 2011, offered free education and medical care, using their oil wealth to pay for it. Certainly neither of these countries under their autocratic rulers were models of democracy, but they had started down the long road which leads to fully just societies.
Even when I lived in Iraq in the 1950s we had a parliament and elections which were probably more democratic than what passes for democracy post 2003. And yet the Western powers, in their wisdom, decided to destroy my country and Libya, and unleash chaos instead. The rise of ISIS in both countries is a direct result of these misguided Western policies.” (p307)

Middle East in turmoil  –  so much to regret

“In the aftermath of Blair’s 2003 War, the region is on fire. There is mass emigration of professionals and ethnic and religious minorities, while extremism, emergencies, and dysfunctional governments fill the chaotic vacuum. Advantage has been taken of the sectarian nature of Iraq to divide and rule, while the wealth of the country has been sequestered, undermining education and medical care. The oil flow which used to pay for it is now controlled by multinationals and social justice has been replaced by a global economy controlled by the very rich. Freedom of movement is severely restricted by the requirement to obtain permits to travel around the country, and like Palestine, Iraq is now littered with roadblocks at which permits to travel have to be produced.” (p 308)

“I feel deep sorrow for the needless loss of Iraqi lives as well as for the young British and US combatants who placed themselves in harm’s way. This war and occupation is not a British or American war but a misadventure by the coalition of the neo-cons and Bush-Blair in their quest for oil and self advancement.” (p312)

Riad El-Taher

Riad El-Taher died of prostate cancer in Hove in November 2018, aged about 79 shortly before the publication of his book.

NOTES

Iraq, international law and the consequences of western action

The negative aspects of life in Iraq have been well rehearsed in our media. Iraq was run as a ruthless dictatorship with consequent fear and violence. Our media neglected to mention the positive elements in Iraq.

International law is very clear in outlawing starting a war against a country which is not engaged in warlike activity against it. Iraq, it was clear to the tens of millions around the world who protested against the planned war that Iraq was not a threat to any country.

The world has been made an unhappier place. The wars against Iraq and the UN sanctions have been beyond tragedy for the people of Iraq. They have also had terrible repercussions for the west where we are still paying the price in the form of the threat of terrorism. How easy it was to pass through airport security before the 2003 attack on Iraq! The middle east is still unstable and suffering, producing millions of refugees. We are also living with the guilt and shame of what was done in our name.

David Roberts
28 April 2021

Francis Clark-Lowes

Francis Clark-Lowes left school at 16 and started out as an engineering apprentice. Later he gained a degree in Sociology.
He was a civil servant for 6 years, during which time he studied Arabic. After that he walked (literally) to Cairo, where he worked as a teacher in a secondary school for a year.
He travelled on round the world, working for a while in Japan, before returning to the UK. There he was recruited by the English Language Training department of Saudi Arabian Airlines, and spent 9 years in the kingdom.
Returning again to the UK he obtained an MA in the Psychology of Therapy, and then a doctorate on an aspect of the history of psychoanalysis. For many years he worked as a psychotherapist, while continuing his interest in the Middle East, doing German translation work and running adult education classes on a range of subjects.
He has published his doctoral thesis on the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Stekel, and, as editor-cum-ghost-writer of Riad El-Taher’s book, O Daughter of Babylon.

LINK TO TALK AND DISCUSSION ABOUT THIS BOOK – valid only April and May 2021 

You can use this link to buy this book

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Born in 1942, I now have time to enjoy life more widely and reflect on my experience, interests, and contemporary events.

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