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Tony Blair’s Washington visit and the curious case of a disappearing BBC story

By Gavin Gatenby, Possum News Network
27 May 2006

On Friday 26 May, just hours after Tony Blair and George Bush began talks in Washington on the “progress” of their occupation of Iraq, a curious article appeared on the BBC’s website. Headlined “Iran FM begins first Baghdad trip”, it was posted at 0617 GMT. Penned by one Pam O'Toole, it painted a faux-objective, strangely upbeat, picture of the Iranian foreign minister’s impending visit to Iraq.

This was all the more extraordinary because the US and British governments, through compliant sections of the media – including the BBC which is now virtually the official mouthpiece of the Blair government – have been engaged in a propaganda campaign demonising the Tehran government in preparation for an aerial assault on Iran.

In short, the article was strikingly out of tune with the anti-Iranian chorus which continues to insist that Tehran is almost incomprehensively evil and the mainstay of most world terrorism.I picked up a link to this article while browsing the rather selective “1st Headlines” site (http://www.1stheadlines.com). Within hours, it had disappeared from the BBC’s website, although O’Toole’s articles appear to be comprehensively archived there, some dating back to the late 1990s.

I haven’t followed O’Toole career, but on the evidence of this article she’d have been right at home scribbling for the Stalinist regime of the old USSR. To make this point a little clearer I couldn’t resist adding a few words (bold in square brackets) and deletions (struck through) and with those changes her report could be something one might have read in Pravda in the 1960s.

[The people’s Democratic Republic of] Iran's Foreign Minister, [Comrade] Manouchehr Mottaki, is due in Iraq for talks with top Iraqi officials.

[The fraternal government of] Tehran is strongly opposed to the presence of US [imperialist] forces in Iraq.

But [Comrade] Mottaki's visit comes against a backdrop of increasing sectarian violence in Iraq [fomented by imperialist agencies] and [mutual] security issues are likely to be high on the priority list.

Iran says all Iraq's problems stem from the presence of US [imperialist] troops and wants them to withdraw.

However, it also fears that if [, due to imperialist meddling,] Iraq fragments, it could cause regional instability [prejudicing mutual economic and social progress].

Tehran wants a relatively stable Iraq and may offer to use its influence with [fraternal] Shia groups and parties to help achieve that.

It will want to discuss the continuing presence of [reactionary] Iranian armed opposition group in Iraq, while Baghdad may raise Iran's recent military operations against [Zionist puppet] Kurdish insurgents along their joint frontier.

And Tehran may again raise allegations that Western [imperialist] military forces based in Iraq are helping to fuel unrest among Iran's ethnic minorities across the border.

The possibility of Washington and Tehran holding direct talks about Iraq was touted recently [by the capitalist press], but now appears [as a result of the intransigence of reactionary imperialist interests] to have receded.

[The Progressive governments of] Tehran and Baghdad have strong cultural, religious and economic ties.

Iranian officials say a secure, stable and more independent Iraq will be in the interests of Iran and other [progressive] regional countries.

Ah Comrades, those were the days!

But seriously, this stitched-up style is a dead certain indication that the writer is working to a government script. The BBC story followed mainstream media reports that British troops were in a militarily untenable position in Iraq’s south and that about half the force would shortly be withdrawn.

In recent weeks there have been similar predictions from authoritative sources that the US was also looking to draw down its ground troop commitment in Iraq.

The BBC article was almost certainly part of the stage management for Blair’s talks with Bush. It would not have gone unnoticed by the president’s media minders. It certainly reads as if it were meant to send a public signal to the American president that Blair wanted out of Iraq, wanted no part of a bombing campaign against Iran, and was prepared to enter negotiations with Tehran. Indeed the article underlined the fact that Tehran controls the fate of the Green Zone government.

It is not surprising that Blair would want to emphasise this point by making it public through the BBC. Britain’s military position in Iraq’s south is dangerously untenable. The safety of British troops already depends on Britain’s accommodation with Tehran’s Iraqi surrogates.

If this was the ploy it didn’t work. Blair backed down. Perhaps he unexpectedly caved in to Bush before the article could hit the airwaves and the web. On the night of Thursday 25 May, Blair “looking weary and under pressure after his visit to Iraq” (to quote the Sydney Morning Herald) stood beside Bush to insist that despite reports there were no plans to withdraw US or British forces. In classic Stalinist style, O’Toole’s article, suddenly redundant, disappeared as if it had never existed.

On Friday 26 May, the puppet Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, said that Iran had the right to develop a peaceful nuclear program.

Who knows what blackmail Bush applied to get Blair to stay in Iraq. Who knows what pressure he applied to the Japanese government to get them to extend their small reconstruction role in al-Muthanna province after they had all but officially announced their imminent departure. That decision also meant that John Howard had no grounds for withdrawing the small Australian contingent protecting the Japanese (who are not permitted to get involved in any actual fighting). It remains to be seen whether the new Italian Government will actually withdraw Italian troops in line with their election promises or will simply indicate a gradual draw-down then repeatedly delay it. Who knows what pressure Bush will exert to get this result.

In any event, George screwed Tony again. British troops will remain in Iraq, in spite of Blair’s misgivings.

The pro-Iranian politicians of the Iraqi puppet government would certainly have welcomed the withdrawal of the Coalition from the Southern provinces and the handing of formal control to their sectarian militias and the police and army units they own.Tehran will be angered by the Coalition’s failure to withdraw and in response it is likely to use its surrogate forces to gradually apply more and more military pressure to the Coalition’s outnumbered troops in the South. Tony Blair has only himself to blame.