From Baghdad and Basra and Erbil to Belfast

Henry McDonald examines the educational links between Northern Ireland and Iraq. He quotes a British Council official saying that they have given Iraqi and UK school children a means of exchanging ideas, sharing their cultural experiences, and that is a remarkable achievement, given the circumstances. He concludes that until recently, the relationship between the UK and Iraq has been seen solely through the prism of the military presence in their country. Now we want to change that – and education is one way of doing it.

Baghdad Blogger goes home

The Baghdad Blogger Salam Pax returns, as many are doing and will blog from Iraq. He says – on the politics front, I have never felt as supportive of the current Iraqi prime minister Nouri Maliki as I was during the negotiations for the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States. For once it felt as if the Iraqi government could stand up for itself and not be a pushover. Yes, the negotiations were messy and the Iraqi parliament acted, in the end, like a bunch of kindergarten kids, but as an executive authority the prime minister and his cabinet mostly played hardball with the US negotiators. It was great to follow, and hopefully a sign of political maturity.

Increasing dialogue with Iraqis

reports on LFIQ meeting with FCO Minister Bill Rammell.
Meg and Gary Kent, Director of Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ), recently met Bill Rammell, Minister of State at the Foreign Office with responsibility for the Middle East. They discussed how to help improve the understanding of Iraq within the UK and enhance relations between the two countries.
Meg and Gary explained that LFIQ aims to build support for the new Iraq, working closely with Iraqi politicians from a variety of political parties, Iraqi trade unions and other organisations in civil society. With British troops scheduled to leave Iraq during the course of this year, and the Iraqi government increasingly able to take on all aspects of governing it may be an opportune time to consider different ways the UK can continue to support Iraq. Bill Rammell indicated that the Foreign Office is interested in helping the further
development of such ideas.

TUC Aid Appeal – Give for Gaza

Please support this humanitarian appeal
All proceeds will be forwarded through the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) to support emergency humanitarian relief operations carried out by them in Gaza. All trade union relief operations are co-ordinated through Red Crescent in Jordan, Egypt and Gaza and focused on the identified needs of the people affected by the events. The first ITF-PGFTU humanitarian flight is due to leave for Gaza on 08 Jan 2009. The TUC supports an immediate ceasefire by both sides, and the pursuit of a political solution to the problems of the Middle East based on two states.

Provincial elections in Iraq

The New York Times reports on the provincial elections at the end of the month.
It says, for example – it is also the first time that large numbers of candidates like Mr. Kareem have decided for themselves that Iraq is sufficiently safe to campaign publicly and put their oversize pictures on posters and banners around the city. It sometimes seems that every square inch of blast wall in Baghdad is covered with them.

Iraq as a bridge between America and Iran

The LA Times reports the visit of the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki to Iran to discuss economic, transportation and electricity issues. He said – our security achievements and redeeming Iraq from the sectarian war gave us the chance to exert more efforts to accelerate the process of reconstruction and development, which needs the presence of neighboring countries’ companies.
Iraq’s minister of education, Khudair Khuzai, also an Islamic Dawa member, said Maliki had an additional aim: to help improve relations between the U.S. and Iran. He said – we believe that having any tension between those countries will reflect negatively on Iraq, Iraq wants to be a [bridge] between both countries.

See Foreign Office Forum Speeches

Here are youtube videos of keynote speeches at the first Partnership with Iraq, Forum on Human Rights Support was held at the FCO on 16 December 2008. It brought together representatives of the Iraqi, UK and other foreign governments, along with NGOs, civil society groups and international organisations. They discussed the human rights issues facing Iraq now and of concern for the future. The Forum plans to meet again in 2009 to look at how to take forward the issues raised.

Pause for thought

In a letter to the Guardian, Rev David Williams makes a pertinent and pithy point. He writes – Sam Leith (Letters, 18 December) likens George Bush to Saddam Hussein as someone who “buggered up Iraq”. But nobody ever interrupted a Saddam Hussein speech by throwing shoes. I wonder why?
Happy Christmas and a peaceful new year from LFIQ

Challenges facing Iraq

In the Guardian, Martin Chulov examines some key challenges facing Iraq in 2009 including the return of exiles. He says – Up to 2 million Iraqis are still scattered across the Arab world and Europe. And among them are up to 200,000 professionals who hold the key to whether a country that lost the lot can start again from scratch.

Forum could increase dialogue and understanding

The Foreign Office this week hosted a very useful Forum on human rights and partnership in Iraq.
With the news that British combat troops are returning home in the next few months, we are moving into a new phase of relations between our countries.
We hope that the bitterness and division over the intervention and the role of our troops can be replaced, not by indifference, but by engagement and a focus on how Britain can assist Iraqis in reconstructing their country.
LFIQ continues to emphasise the need for increased investment, trade and
other exchanges with Iraq to help them escape the consequences of a bloody dictatorship which pulverised the country and isolation which denied them access to modern methods and thinking.
Some controversial issues were aired. There were concerns expressed about the unequal application of the law. In part, this is because there is still corruption at an administrative level. It was suggested that those arrested can bribe their way out of prosecution. The other side of this coin is that judges find themselves being threatened and some have been murdered.
There are procedural irregularities at court; those accused may not have the chance to offer a proper defence and allegations may be treated as evidence. There is work via the UK government and EU to improve the standard of judicial proceedings.
We were told that there are approximately 28,000 people in prison in Iraq (this has doubled in 4 years) and a further 24,000 believed to be held by the US forces.
There is a widespread belief that up to 70% of those detained, have not committed any offence. It was reported that even when a court issues an order for the release of a detainee, the local authority does not feel obliged to release them.
As law and order move from the army to the police, there is work to be done. The FCO is supporting this, to get ‘buy in’ from the civilian population and to create, as it were, a new social contract.
There was also a welcome focus on trade union rights. A key LFIQ priority is to back the Iraqi unions in their campaigns to scrap old and new restrictions and win a labour code that brings Iraq into compliance with international standards
The initiation of this Forum is invaluable in providing a space for increased dialogue and understanding.
Clive Furness and Gary Kent for LFIQ