‘A gross violation of international law and of human
, rights’, is how MP Dennis Canavan describes
s the months go by and the possibility of a peaceful settlement to the Gulfcrisis seems less and less likely, leaders on both sides have been sharpening their rhetoric. George Bush, while giving his support for Republican candidates in America’s mid-term elections, claimed he had ‘had it’ with President Saddam. At the weekend however, the Iraqi information minister countered Bush’s military build-up with the blunt statement that there could be no chance of peace between Arabs until all foreign forces withdrew from the area.
Despite this atmosphere of tension, recent weeks have seen successful attempts, most notably that of Conservative MP Ted Heath, to bring home British hostages through diplomatic means. Like the former Prime Minister, Dennis Canavan, Labour MP for Falkirk West, has witnessed the situation suffered by the British hostages held in Iraqi hotels and in the British embassy in Baghdad. A few weeks ago, he joined an international delegation of politicians, trade unionists, academics and religious representatives which met 100 of the 230 or so British citizens held there.
‘Our mission had a two-fold objective,’ he says. ‘To make representations to the Iraqi authorities for the release of the hostages, and to ascertain whether there is any basis for a peaceful or negotiated solution to the Gulfcrisis.’
As a member of the Commons defence select committee. Canavan’s first-hand experience of the Arab temperament will be put to immediate use, although his anti-militaristic views are not necessarily those of his parliamentary colleagues. It is a position he is familiar with: at the time of the Falklands War, he was one of 30 or so Labour MPs who voted against the Government, a group that Cyril Smith MP said should be tried for
Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. He tells Alan Morrison about his recent trip to Iraq and
suggests possible solutions to the Gulf crisis.
‘Peacemakers throughout the ages have been subjected to ridicule and criticism, being called traitors. There are some politicians who might be looking at this grave crisis from the point of view of how they can exploit it in terms ofvotes. There’s no danger of them going out there and risking their necks, yet they’re sending young men, some of whom might never come back home again. I think that human lives are far more important than votes or vested interests in oil supplies.’
Canavan agrees with the Iraqis on one point — that any solution must include a wider examination ofthe entire Middle East region: ‘It’s important for us to ‘see ourselves as others see us’, and they see double standards on our part as far as the occupation of the West Bank is concerned. My personal opinion is that it would probably take someone of King Hussein’s stature to build bridges, because no Western politician can fully understand the Arab culture and perception. He should be given more encouragement to try to do . . . what is necessary to get that peaceful solution which would be in everybody’s interest.’
It is perhaps difficult to see where this encouragement would come from, as virtually all attempts to hold talks on a personal level with Saddam have been criticised by politicians and sections ofthe media as breaking UN resolutions and playing into the Iraqi publicity trap. Canavan is convinced however that the pro-war stance is not as popular as many politicians would like to think, and that lessons have been learned over the Falklands.
‘A lot ofpeople realise now in retrospect that the cost in human lives was tragic, and they wonder ifit was all really worth it.’
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4 The List 9 - 22 November 1990