“The Shatt al Arab has been a river of Iraqi sovereignty through all stages of history. Any attempt to minimize the full sovereignty of Iraq over this vital lane would be faced with categorical rejection from our side.”

Sadoun Hamadi, Iraqi foreign minister

The UN-sponsored peace talks between Iraq and Iran appear to have reached a roadblock. Iraq insists on full sovereignty over the Shatt al Arab while Iran adamantly rejects such a demand.

The Shatt al Arab is created from the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates. The 120-mile waterway provides Iraq with an outlet to the Persian Gulf.

“The 1975 Algiers Treaty under which Iraq agreed to share the ownership of the Shatt al Arab with Iran no longer exists,” said Hamadi, the Iraqi foreign minister, on this day.

“Treaties cannot be abrogated by unilateral action. All border treaties are permanent, unchangeable and decisive,” replied Ali Akbar Velayati, the Iranian foreign minister, immediately.

Massacre in Northern Iraq

On Aug. 29 1988, Iraqi Kurds described a massacre at Bassay Gorge, in northern Iraq, in which several thousand people, mainly women and children, were killed while trying to reach the Turkish border.

It appears that they were killed by a mixture of various nerve gasses. The following morning, their bodies were piled up and burned by Iraqi troops wearing protective gas masks.

Two War College authors, Dr. Stephen C. Pelletiere and Lt. Col. Douglas V. Johnson III, have dismissed the massacre as a fabrication. They argued that not a single body was recovered and that the description of the symptoms by the Kurds does not conform to any known chemical or combination of chemicals.

“To disbelieve these eyewitnesses, one would have to conclude that the Kurdish insurgents had organized, in a matter of days, a conspiracy to defame Iraq involving the full participation of 65,000 men, women, and children confined in camps in locations up to 200 miles apart,” wrote Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff member Peter W. Galbraith.

British journalist Gwynne Roberts said the survivors were clearly traumatized by what they had witnessed. He also pointed out that their reports were completely consistent.

Roberts also entered Iraq clandestinely and brought back fragments of an exploded shell with samples of the surrounding soil. A British laboratory confirmed the presence of traces of mustard gas. (Note: By the time Roberts collected the sample, nerve gas would not have left traces.)

US government experts consulted by the Senate mission led by Galbraith contradicted the War College authors. The US experts said that the symptoms described were consistent with the use of mustard gas, as well as some fast-acting lethal agent, most likely nerve agents or cyanide.

Back to the Present (2008)

On Thursday, Dr. Swire sent me a letter, also published in the Herald, regarding the UN sanctions against Libya and the compensation to be paid to the relatives of the victims of Pan Am 103. The letter is reproduced below.

In the years following the Lockerbie atrocity Libya found her oil industry progressively crippled by UN (and US) sanctions, which denied her the use of ever more sophisticated Western oil recovery technology.

Following her agreement to allow her two citizens to appear in front of a Scottish [criminal] court (at Zeist in Holland), one of them was found guilty of having carried out the atrocity.

The terms for withdrawal of the UN sanctions included that Libya acknowledge her guilt and pay ‘compensation’ for the atrocity.

The scope for negotiation was clear: meeting the UN requirements would allow Libya’s economic recovery, no less. This is now being achieved through a refurbishment of her oilfields with the benefit of Western (mainly US) technology.

Subsequently Tony Blair, while still Prime Minister, and ensuring that the relatives were kept in the dark, visited the Colonel. Such negotiations seem to me to be the stuff of which international relations are built: this is what politicians do.

On Tony Blair’s return it was claimed that a deal had been made for the repatriation of any Libyans held in UK prisons. Subsequently unconvincing claims were made, apparently by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that the Libyan held in Scotland over the Lockerbie atrocity would not be included in any such deal. This also is how politicians behave.

A newspaper (the Financial Times) then discovered that a deal had also been made during Tony Blair’s visit, whereby a well known British oil company would be guaranteed a healthy slice of profitable work on Libya’s oil industry

In a letter to the UN after the Zeist verdict was passed, Libya’s phraseology was that ‘since a Scottish court had found one of her agents guilty, therefore she would pay ‘compensation”.

The terms of the financial ‘compensation’ were negotiated by a team of US lawyers representing most relatives, including myself.

The details of these negotiations remain the subject of embargo to us to this day. The then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw was at pains to tell us that the negotiations were a legal, not a political issue. Of course.

Colonel Gaddafi’s talented and artistic son Saif now claims that the relatives were ‘greedy’.

I am glad to see that Libya’s economy is recovering, far beyond the value of the ‘compensation’ negotiations and that she is becoming accepted as other than a promoter of terrorism. Both of these facts suggest a diminution of hostility and material gains for both sides.

I salute Saif and wish him happiness which I think he is more likely to find in his life, if it is true, as he claims, that he is dropping out of politics.

I just wish that the needs of the relatives, namely a thirst for the truth and for justice would be attended to rather than an alleged hunger for money.

A trapped man dies of thirst long before he would die of hunger.

Financial ‘compensation’ must remain in its inverted commas. Money cannot buy our families back.

But there is some genuine compensation to be had from seeing the healing of the enmity between the West and Libya. I thank Saif for providing the opportunity to say this.

So far as many relatives I know would say, we would gladly repay any ‘compensation’ money if we could just have our loved ones back.

Dr Jim Swire, father of Flora, murdered at Lockerbie. 21/12/88


Which Weapons of War Qualify as Humane?

“Whatever Happened to the Iraqi Kurds?”

“Iraq Appears to Toughen Stance on Control of Disputed Waterway,” Aug. 29, 1988.



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