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From our own correspondent

With the situation in Iraq fluid and dangerous, the House of Lords holds an emergency debate on recent developments.

"When I went to see some of the people on Chilcot’s team—I thought they might like to look at the papers I had written [on Iraq in the 1970s]—they said no, it was not of very much interest."

Lord Selsdon (Con): My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate for me as I have a long-standing relationship with Iraq due to my former chairmanship of the Middle East trade committee. I was always given the more difficult countries of the world to deal with. I thought that was because I was disposable.

I first went to Iraq in 1974, I think. When I arrived, I thought that I would visit the British embassy, but the Iraqis said, “No, don’t go near the British at the moment. We’re not quite sure what they are up to”. I replied, “I’m a British citizen”, but they said, “No, you’re Scottish, it’s not quite the same thing”. Over a period of time, I went backwards and forwards and found, working as I did with the Midland Bank, or one of the banks within it, that we were the main bankers to Iraq. We all knew each other. When we said hello and one asked difficult questions, the Iraqi right arm would go over its heart, and your guest or friend would say, “I am not authorised to discuss this at my level”. I would say, “Were you by any chance trained by us at Midland Bank?”. “How did you guess?”, they would say. This was the rule. There were hierarchies and rules. They were trained at Haslemere or another place—I have forgotten where.

Over that period, I would sit with them and discuss what we could do together; but they did not effectively trust the British. One of the last times I was there, I was with Tariq Aziz, who asked me about Sir Hannay, as he called the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—he could not manage “Sir David Hannay”. He said that he rather liked Sir Hannay, that he was trustworthy, and would like to discuss with him that the Iraqis were looking for interlocutors.

In the discussions there, we looked at Iran’s economic potential in the medium and long term, and of course it came down to oil. We had the Matrix Churchill affair, when no one would speak to anyone about anything. However, the banking relationship still went on, and we trained Iraqis, had a great regard for them and they honoured every debt. They were accurate in all their accounting, and I much appreciate them. I thought that it would be a good idea to dig out some of the papers that we wrote about what could happen, the relationship with Iran, and all these things when, in the early banking days, we were determined that politics and economics were one and the same. If you got the politics wrong, you would lose money.

I looked, therefore, at the future and I dug out all my papers from before. When we were out there, it was difficult to have official meetings because you needed that strange instrument called “permission to speak”. I found that rather strange but got that occasionally from the Government, so one had a right to go and talk frankly. If you were their bankers, their children were educated in England or Scotland, and you worked together—you trusted them. I trust that economy. I raised the matter with a few friends the other day and asked why the British were sitting on their whatevers—the phrase was not too polite. The Iraqis are our friends and always have been; we trust them and know where we stand with them. At this point, there is an opportunity to take action. Are we frightened to go there? No, I am not frightened to go there. I would willingly go there again tomorrow; I never have been frightened to. However, the difficulty, once you got caught in the political maelstrom, was that you did not know where you were[1].

[1] Connoisseurs will recognise a familiar Selsdonian theme here.

All the Ministers who I got to know at that time have long passed—even the tough ones. However, I remember several instances, once with the Oil Minister. I asked, “How much oil have you got?”. He said, “You in England should roll up that map of Europe. I will unroll our oil map”. We sat and looked and marked on the map how much oil there was. Then he said, “Come and look here”. He opened another curtain, and through a mirror or a window I saw a whole lot of French people who I had met before in the hotel and were negotiating “sanction busting”, I suppose you would call it—oil deals and transactions.

The economy of Iraq, based upon oil, is strong. We have a political situation in which it needs a friend. I genuinely believe that the United Kingdom could and should be its best and most trusted friend. I look back and think of my grandfather who was director of restriction of enemy supplies during the First World War, was in the Navy, and was then responsible to some extent for part of the peace process. He pointed out that in those days trade was important; the world should be based upon trade. The Iraqis are great traders. I have no fear of the situation at the moment but there is an opportunity for this Government—the British—to take an initiative.

I did not realise that Tariq Aziz actually played cricket, had been in Wales and was a wicket-keeper. Because I was a wicket-keeper too, instead of discussing other things we discussed cricket for a long time. Iraq is a great country and I had discussions there before I went to Iran—I was asked if I could help out with that little difficulty called Salman Rushdie, because we were, again, bankers to the Government of Iran, so you could go there unencumbered, without any fear. I feel that we have withdrawn a bit from the Middle East and could take many more initiatives because I really believe that we are trusted. What my noble friend Lord Howell said is absolutely true. Unless an initiative is taken by some country, no one is going to get anywhere. When I went to see some of the people on Chilcot’s team—I thought they might like to look at the papers I had written—they said no, it was not of very much interest.

To me, the future lies in whether we can revitalise INOC, the original Iraq National Oil Company. We found in those days that there were many buyers and, from the latest studies I have done, there are adequate oil supplies. I feel the Government should take the initiative; I hope that they will. I would support it and most of my noble friends who know Iraq would support it. It is not a matter of being afraid but taking some initiative at this particular time. [Hansard]


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 30th, 2014 04:12 pm (UTC)
That little difficulty called Salman Rushdie! Oh, Selsdon. And those wacky Iraqis not getting the difference in what you call lords and sirs.
Jun. 30th, 2014 06:37 pm (UTC)
Oh god I am so pleased you are posting here again. Not just for the Selsdon update, but that helps.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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