As British as afternoon tea

By imposing regime change in Iraq, Blair is not so

much following the US as continuing a national


Mark Curtis 

Wednesday May 21, 2003

The Guardian,3604,960161,00.html

Iraqis facing an uncertain future in the wake of

forcible "regime change" have every reason to fear not

only US but also British policy. While past American

behaviour in the region is widely criticised,

contributing to fears of real US intentions, Britain's

role is often regarded as more benign. The reality is

that overthrowing governments and backing repressive

regimes is as British as afternoon tea. 

Fifty years ago, MI6 and the CIA overthrew the

popular, nationalist government in Iran, which had

threatened British interests by nationalising oil

operations. Churchill's government continued covert

operations begun by Attlee, to install what foreign

secretary Anthony Eden called "a more reliable

government". Formerly secret files reveal that our

ambassador in Tehran preferred "a dictator" who would

"settle the oil question on reasonable terms". The

Shah took control and ruled Iran with an iron fist for

25 years, while Britain and the US helped train his

secret police. 

Britain's invasion of British Guiana in the same year

is long forgotten. Democratic elections had resulted

in victory for a popular, leftist government committed

to reducing poverty. Its plans also threatened the

British sugar multinational, Bookers, who pleaded with

London to intervene. Britain dispatched warships and

700 troops to overthrow the government, and ruled out

elections since "the same party would have been

elected again", the colonial secretary stated. 

The files also reveal British support for "regime

change" in Indonesia in 1965 - one of the worst

bloodbaths of the 20th century. "I have never

concealed from you my belief that a little shooting in

Indonesia would be an essential preliminary to

effective change," the ambassador in Jakarta, Sir

Andrew Gilchrist, secretly informed the Foreign

Office. A million people were killed when the army

exterminated the Indonesian Communist Party, PKI. 

The Foreign Office stated that "we can hardly go wrong

by tacitly backing the generals". London directly

aided those engaged in slaughter by conducting covert

operations to "blacken the PKI". Britain also

delivered secret messages to the army promising not to

use its military forces in the region to undermine

"the attempts which they now seem to be making to deal

with the PKI". 

General Suharto removed Sukarno's nationalist

government and instigated a brutal military regime,

which ruled until 1998, with constant British support.

Syria, Oman, Yemen and Egypt are among other

governments targeted by Britain in the last

half-century. By invading Iraq, and bombing

Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, the Blair government is

simply continuing a British tradition of promoting

regime change. Looking at these examples, Iraqis

should take little comfort. And they should be worried

about the other side of the coin: equally indefensible

current British policies of promoting "regime support"

for favoured governments. 

Turkey has destroyed 3,500 Kurdish villages, made

hundreds of thousands of people homeless and killed

thousands more in its war against Kurds. Atrocities

have decreased since the late 1990s but hundreds of

thousands of Kurds are unable to return to their

villages. Ankara-appointed "village guards" occupy

much of their lands; villagers attempting to return

have recently been shot dead. Turkish police torture

remains systematic. 

Britain has been an apologist for these crimes while

conducting business as usual. Arms exports flow, while

Turkish military officers and the police, guilty of

the worst human rights abuses, receive training in

Britain. London aided Ankara by closing down the

Kurdish TV station, MED-TV, in the same month that BAE

Systems, Britain's largest arms company, struck an

arms deal with Turkey. Whitehall is bending over

backwards to support Ankara's bid to join the EU.

Another major Blair ally is Russian President Vladimir

Putin. It is instructive that the Foreign Office

claims this close official and personal relationship

as a great success since it implicates Britain in some

of the worst horrors of our time. 

The invasion of Chechnya in September 1999 was

followed by Russia's flattening of Grozny, killing

thousands. British leaders offered the mildest of

protests, while defence minister Geoff Hoon spoke of

"engaging Russia in a constructive bilateral defence

relationship". Human rights atrocities in Chechnya are

increasing again, with thousands of "disappearances". 

The government refuses to use bilateral levers to

press Russia, such as aid or military training. Last

year, Blair said of Chechnya, "I have always been more

understanding of the Russian position, perhaps, than

many others." 

The aim of "regime change" and "regime support" is to

ensure other governments promote policies favourable

to British elites. Basic goals are to shape economies

to benefit private corporations and maintain Britain's

political status in the world. The concept of "human

rights" is generally deployed by leaders as a tool to

achieve these objectives. If the past and present in

other countries is anything to go by, Iraqis would be

wise to challenge British plans for their country and


 Mark Curtis's Web of Deceit: Britain's Real Role in

the World, is published this month by Vintage.


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