The Labour leadership campaign will involve discussion of Iraq. It could hardly be otherwise or Mesopotamia would be one fairly large elephant in the room.
Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ) was established in 2004 by those who had both opposed and supported the intervention. Our founding members took opposing positions over the war, but we parked these differences to provide moral and material support to the Iraqi labour movement and civil society.
In regular discussions in Iraq and in the UK with Iraqi political and social leaders, we were also persuaded to promote commercial and cultural connections between our two countries. We work on a bipartisan basis with Conservative Friends of Iraq and others to cement connections between our two countries.
We also know that the term "liberation" is freely used, certainly in Kurdistan and to a lesser degree in the rest of Iraq to describe the intervention.
Yet such views barely dent the common view of many on the British left. Some seem to have forgotten the suffering of the Iraqi people under Saddam. His genocide against the Kurds which claimed nearly 200,000 lives, hundreds of thousands of Shias were slaughtered and there was systematic and brutal repression in "the Republic of Fear." And two bloody wars of aggression against his the country's neighbours.
A letter writer recently suggested that Labour should issue an apology to the people of Iraq. He didn't specify what form it could take.
There are several possibilities.
We could apologise for not having done more to oppose previous governments supporting Saddam Hussein as a check against Iran.
We could apologise for ignoring the genocide against the Kurds.
We could apologise for not doing more to uphold UN resolutions.
We could apologise for not intervening earlier. We could apologise for failing to ensure that America did more to stabilise the country after the swift overthrow of Saddam.
I am not proposing any of these options but use them as a reality check and to emphasise the need to include Iraqi opinions, which are varied, in any debate on the intervention.
A minority on the left supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Disagree by all means but this was a legitimate response to decades of dictatorship.
Others could acknowledge the force of those arguments yet remained opposed to the war: because of doubts about the motivation of the US government, or the belief that international legitimacy depended on explicit UN authority.
There is surely a compelling case, which could be shared by opponents as well as supporters of the war, that Britain did have a responsibility towards Iraq after 2003.
There is certainly a clear and urgent case for people who differed on the war uniting to help the Iraqi labour movement.
There has been a lot of talk about Iraq but far too few people have helped the Iraqis since 2003. There have been honourable exceptions, with trade unions that opposed the intervention taking an active stand in support of the Iraqi labour movement. For example, Unison, the FBU, the RMT, ATL, NASUWT and the TUC have all invested time and money in
supporting our brothers and sisters.
LFIQ has asked the leadership candidates, whatever their views on the intervention in 2003, to commit themselves to work for full trade union rights, increased women's rights and better UK-Iraq links.
We have asked them to back the International call for a fair and just labour law in Iraq.
This is supported by the TUC, the ITUC and many others around the world and calls on the Iraqi Government and Parliament to implement a fair and just labour law.
LFIQ Joint President Dave Anderson has tabled this Commons motion (EDM 192) on the issue:
"That this House supports the work of the new and independent trade union movement in Iraq; deplores the barbaric terrorist attack on a textile factory in Hilla in May 2010 which killed 40 workers and injured dozens of other people; agrees with the Trades Union Congress that this is a tragic reminder of just how urgently Iraq needs a stable, non-sectarian government which can put in place the laws and policies to enable ordinary Iraqis to live and work in dignity, peace and freedom; and extends its solidarity to the General Federation of Iraqi Workers in its efforts, and those of many
others around the world, to urge the Iraqi government and Parliament to overturn the continuing ban on public sector trade unions and implement a fair and just labour law."
I urge the leadership candidates to support it.
They and others could make concrete pledges to help Iraqis themselves stand on their own two feet.
This was the main message given to LFIQ when we met 22 leaders of the Iraqi trade union movement in 2006 in Iraq and on which we have been acting ever since in helping the actually existing Iraq.
Gary Kent is Director of Labour Friends of Iraq.