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Britain and the Shatt al-Arab

orca | 24.03.2007 22:31 | Analysis | Anti-militarism | World

I bought a newspaper tonight with a headline about the fifteen British sailors and marines seized by Irans revolutionary guard. The girl selling it to me pointed to the headline and said 'That's it, we are all going to get nuked'. I pointed out Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons and she responded 'Well, they are starting taking our sailors, we have to nuke them'. I pointed out the captives and their families probably wouldn't agree with her.

That is the worst thing about propaganda, it doesn't have to be any good to be effective. There are hopeful signs both Britain and Iran are beginning to play this incident down. The Iranians have take the arrested sailors to Tehran, which preceded the release of the previous arrested British sailors and marines. The British haven't released the names of the service personnel involved, which they would have if they were trying to stoke up tabloid fury, although the tabloids seem furious enough already.

I watched this story unfold on TV and the internet. The initial report was that fifteen UK service personnel had been seized from international waters. This was quickly changed to state that they were seized from Iraqi waters. The Iranian news agencies took some time to respond but robustly and consistently claimed they arrested the British personnel in Iranian territorial waters. Now, according to Iraqi Brigadier General Hakim Jassim who is tasked with patrolling these waters they were not in Iraqi waters. He told AP "We were informed by Iraqi fishermen after they had returned from sea that there were British gunboats in an area that is out of Iraqi control, we don't know why they were there" [1]. Although this is a highly disputed border if both the Iraqis and the Iranians are saying they were in Iranian waters, they were in Iranian waters. If Argentinian marines had just been arrested while boarding Falkland Islander vessels I doubt the same consternation would have been expressed. This truly is 'an act of provocation' but it is a British not an Iranian act. It comes in the context of an escalating and transparent campaign designed to justify a war with Iran.

The marines may have made an honest mistake about where they were, but they are equipped with far more accurate GPS systems than are available to the public so that seems implausible. Eight Royal Navy personnel were held in Iranian waters in June of 2004, and were released as soon as Jack Straw phoned and apologised. The Iranians have complained of ongoing incursions since then but haven't arrested any more personnel until now. There is an Iranian naval excercise going on there at the moment which perhaps explains both why the latest personnel were able to be arrested, and perhaps explains why they were sent there.

In recent political context, what does seem likely is the marines were ordered into Iranian territory in order to provoke such an incident and the subsequent wave of hysterical anti-Iranian propaganda. There is a vote in the UN this weekend on further sanctions against Iran. The US has prevented an Iranian delegation from travelling to the vote, in breach of UN regulations which require free access to diplomats. There has been an ongoing propaganda campaign against Iran which is getting ever more virulent, seemingly indicating a forthcoming military strike against Iran. Iran has been getting blamed for training and supplying insurgents in Iraq with little evidence, while at the same time respected US journalists such as Seymour Hersh have been briefed that US special forces are doing exactly the same thing inside Iran [2]. This is classic 'Goebbels' propaganda, to commit an atrocity then attack your enemy for commiting a similar if fictious atrocity. British soldiers arrested in Basrah in Arab dress, and armed to the teeth, were never brought to trial thanks to a spectacular jail-break. No explanation was ever given as to what they were up to.

This is how countries are led unwillingly to war and the best way to combat it is to expose the lies. There have been independent sources stating that US forces are preparing for a military strike in April, before their last major ally, Tony Blair, is forced from office. [3]

In historical context, the British should never be in that area as they have a long and shameful history there [4]. The confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that constitutes the Shatt al-Arab forms the southern border between modern day Iraq and Iran. It is interesting that in the UK we know it exclusively by it's arab name (Coast of Arabs) and not the more widely used Persian name, the Arvandrud (the arvand river). It has been disputed between rival empires for millenia and may just be the most politicised surviving border in history. The key to winning a chess game is arguably controlling or threatening the centre four squares on the board. I doubt any river has washed away so much blood. Treaties have been forced upon rival dominions down that waterway since the Epic of Gilgamesh. It was fought over by, at various stages, by many of the world's greatest and bloodiest empires: the Babylonians, the Persians, the Parthians, the Macedonians, the Mongols, the British, the Russians, the Ottomans; and now the American empire. There is a minor argument over whether the border lies on one side of the river or the other, or straight down the middle. The Arvandruds strategic value before the discovery of the oil fields on either side may seem hard to grasp today, but it is a defendable river that cut across East/West trade routes in the so-called 'cradle of civilisation'. Today it's value is hard to ignore, a central site on top of the 'worlds greatest natural resource', the oil fields on either bank. As the only Iraqi route for the export of their oil the deliniation of the border has grown even more bloody as history progresses.

Today we are being told there has been a British military presence there for 'almost 70 years', which is nonsense. In the 'Great Game' played out for world dominion between 19th century superpowers this waterway was yet again 'dead centre', marking the first British military presence there, long before Winston Churchill bombed Kurdish villages with poison gas. I doubt many Brits have even heard of the Anglo-Persian war of 1856-57 [5]. Most Persians have, but then we Brits have so many foriegn wars of conquest to be expected to remember them all. Is there a country we haven't been at war with at some point?

In 1639, the Treaty of Zuhab was signed establishing a peace between the Ottomans and Persians and defining the border between the two empires on this waterway. Back then the Royal Navy were little more than prirates euphemistically known as 'privateers' who were licensed to attack Spanish galleons for a share of the spoils - a heritage that even today means they fly the 'skull and cross bones' after a 'kill' such as sinking the Belgrano. The MoD claim today that the sailors were on a 'routine piracy operation' does make me smile. In 1746, after more war, the Zuhab treaty was reaffirmed. In 1823, after more war, the treaty was reaffirmed. After that, the Russians and British vied for control of the region which is why there are both Russian and British cemetaries well-tended to this day in Tehran. In 1847, after more war, a new treaty was agreed - but by the foreign powers who were both fearful of German influence. In 1932 Iraq appealed in vain to the League of Nations that the border be established at the mid-point of the river (the 'thalweg' principle). In 1953 the CIA toppled the Iranian government and put in place a proxy, an absolute monarch known as the Shah with a secret police called the SAVAK who tolerated no dissent but were partial to torture. In 1958 there was a nationalist revolution in Iraq and the border issue became a major point of conflict again.

Britain has recognised the border differently to suit it's current ally in the region, and has flip-flopped several times in my lifetime in a policy that could only be aimed at destablising the entire region.

In 1975 there was a minor war over the waterway called the Arvandrud Skirmish. The British supported the Shahs claim to all of the river as he was the US regional policeman at the time. Iran prevailed.

From 1980 to 1988, Saddam - the former CIA hitman- tried to seize the territory by force from Iran, and due to the Shah being deposed Britain armed and supported his claim. This is perhaps the bloodiest war of the latter 20th century, and one the UK is culpable for. Iraq's stated war aims were to recover rights of exclusive navigation of the Shatt al-Arab.

In the 1990-91 Iraq-Kuwait conflict, the UK attacked Iraq after Saddam had misread US signals and invaded Kuwait after cross boder drilling by Kuwait [6]. They didn't dare actually remove Saddam as he was still a regional balwark against their main enemy Iran. They implented an illegal no-fly zone 'to protect the Kurds' while allowing Iraqi troops to massacre them on the ground and Turkish troops to bomb the kurds from the air - taking off from the same airstrips the RAF pilots were using. They also implemented draconian sanctions against Iraq that according to the UN killed 500,000 Iraqi children - noone knows how many adults died but Saddams family only prospered due to them. The British made no statement on the border dispute except to stop Iraqi warplanes (not helicopter gunships) to fly over it. In this war the only Iraqi warplanes that had survived anyway were ones that flew to Iran for sanctuary - the Iranians impounded them.

And now, yet again, British troops are pawns for British political intrigue over a little river many thousands of miles away and which we have no right or duty to administer, and which historically, we should be ashamed to even comment upon. I'd bet none of those fifteen service personnel have any idea of the history of British Machiavellian machinations in the area. Now given this border is so volatile, maybe there is an argument to have a neutral international force policing it. Which ever countries were to contribute to that, the British should never be there for reasons that are blatantly obvious to anyone who has heard of Lord Curzon or has witnessed in their own lifetime the continuing 'playing the Iraqis and Iranians against each other' for our gain. First the British impose a border down the middle, then they support the Shahs claims to the entire river, then they support Saddams claim to the entire river. The UN once tried to mediate but was rebuffed by the British, now the UN says it isn't their concern but for the two countries involved in territorial disputes to decide. That is cowardly perhaps but it certainly isn't any concern of the British to impose an arbitary border upon countries half the world away, and there should be no UK troops there. They signed up to be part of Royal Navy, and so part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The Persian Gulf is not part of the North Atlantic.









These other links are just recommended background reading, but I'd be happy to answer any critics of anything I've said if they have taken the time to read up on this.

Sailors 'admit' entering Iranian waters,12858,1244613,00.html

Pawns in a deadly game of high stakes

Iran condemns illegal entry of British sailors into its waters

Iran condemns British border transgression

Iran President Fails to Attend UNSC Session Due to US Obstruction

Arvandrud/Shatt al-Arab

Iran-Iraq War and Waterway Claims

1975 Arvandrud Skirmish

Parthian-Iraqi War



two more points...

25.03.2007 19:22

Two more points I've seen posters elsewhere make that are worth repeating:

1) A BBC TV crew arrived on HMS Cornwall the day before the incident - how 'lucky' was that ?

2) If the official story is to be believed, then several Iranian gunboats were able to penetrate deep into Iraqi waters close to the Cornwall without being detected or repulsed. Surely that is military negligence that should have the captain of the Cornwall immediately on court-martial charges ? Seemingly not.

This is a repeat of the dodgy-dossier without even bothering with the paperwork. And yet the only response from our 'resident paid posters' to this article is to question the conversation I had with a newsagent. The sad fact is there isn't a mainstream journalist in the UK who has dared question the glaring flaws in the story and even the spooks seem shamefaced.




Display the following 8 comments

  1. . — .
  2. Dear Dotty — orca
  3. Brig. Gen. Hakim Jassim — orca
  4. Not Dotty either! — Not Donald Rumsfled
  5. Let Mummy Go ( To War ) — orca
  6. The Daily Elite — Not Donald Rumsfled
  7. And they're scared of you — ryan harvey
  8. NSwiki links — Goobergunch