As the situation in Iraq worsens day by day, Andrew Stone talks to a range of key activists about how we can end the occupation.
Convenor of the Stop the War Coalition
The war and occupation were disasters and are likely to produce further disasters. Six months after it supposedly ended the war is very much with us. Talk of another Vietnam in the future tense is misplaced: we are already in another Vietnam. Then, every time the US military encountered resistance it poured in even more troops, despite mounting evidence that this was a war the US could not win. George Bush has called for another $87 billion to pay for the occupation and is sending in more troops. As ever, Tony Blair and Geoff Hoon are saying ’me too‘ and sending in their own junior version of extra forces, while the rest of the world looks on in trepidation.
The Iraqis do not want them there. This much should be clear to most people today. The images of a few hundred Iraqis pulling down a statue of Saddam Hussein back in April which were beamed round the world as evidence of support for the US invasion were, to say the least, not representative of the views of the Iraqi people. Much more representative, if less publicised, are the views of those demonstrators who hold banners calling for the US to leave. An opinion poll in Iraq recently asked if the US and Britain should help make sure a fair government is set up in Iraq, or if the Iraqis should work this out for themselves: 31.5 percent wanted help, while 58.5 percent did not.
The occupation is being resisted on a daily basis. Much of this is not by ’Saddam remnants‘ as Bush pretends, or by Al Qaida, but by ordinary Iraqis driven to opposition by the brutal treatment of killing and oppression which they face from western troops. Every killing of innocent civilians, every raid of Iraqis‘ houses, strengthens this view.
Iraq may now become a ’magnet for terrorists‘ as one journalist put it. There was no link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaida, but Al Qaida may now see the country as fertile ground for support in fighting the US. For most Iraqis, this opens up a grim scenario of continued war and killing, but they are already living in conditions which are the opposite of liberation. Dangers of rape, kidnap and other crimes, particularly aimed at women and children, are widespread. Many fear going to school or work because of the general levels of lawlessness. Water and electricity are not available for much of the time. Sewage lies on the streets. Even the Iraqi oil, the glittering prize for which this war was fought, cannot be got out in sufficient quantities because of sabotage by those who oppose the occupation.
The country is ruled like a colonial raj. Few of its new rulers speak Arabic or have any understanding of Iraqi culture and politics. Echoes of the old imperial order are there in this attempt to impose western values on the Iraqis and in the refusal to allow them to run their own country. The 25-person council is a rubber stamp for what the US colonial authorities decide. The attitude of the soldiers who are the immediate agents of those authorities can be summed up by one British sergeant in the south: ’The freedom [that Iraqis have been given] - they have absolutely no idea how to deal with it. Their idea of freedom was to rob everything that wasn‘t nailed down and sell it, and then come to us and say, “Why don‘t we have water and electricity?”‘
The occupation must end now and the Iraqis should be allowed to determine their own government and their own future. The money that we are spending on troops should be put to use repairing the infrastructure which we have damaged so much through bombing and sanctions. Britain and the US should pay reparations for this war, which should go to help the Iraqi people improve their healthcare, education and other public services.
Some who opposed the war now argue that although the war was wrong, we cannot leave Iraq because there would be a bloodbath. That assumes the western troops are somehow neutral. In reality, they are making the situation worse. Their departure would allow the Iraqis to prepare for elections and to form a government that they wanted. While the troops stay, we are effectively closing off that path to them, saying that they are not fit to run themselves and only listening to the pro-US Iraqis, many of them precisely the right wing exiles who fed the US so much misinformation before the war. In that sense we are making instability and even war more likely, not less.
The only role for the UN in Iraq should be as part of the aid agencies helping to improve life there. There should be no UN troops. Bush is calling on them now because of the US’s failure to secure the country, despite the fact that he ignored the UN only months ago, and regarded it as irrelevant to the international situation. Having made the mess in Iraq, the US and Britain see the UN as Mr and Mrs Mop going round clearing up the mess and leaving the US free to attack Iran or North Korea. UN troops would only be a fig leaf for the US - and the UN has been responsible for the first Gulf War and for the sanctions and weapons inspectors which have been used as political tools against the Iraqi people.
The only way to begin to redress this war is to end the occupation now and give the Iraqis all the help and solidarity that we possibly can to rebuild after decades of dictatorship and war. And to the government’s supporters, who say we’ve started so we have to finish in Iraq, as though it were some gruesome game show, there is one simple answer. You lied to us over every aspect of this war - why should we believe you now?
I don’t claim all of them are, but a lot of Iraqi people are fighting the occupation. They were very happy to get rid of Saddam. Over the years they were struggling, they were paying with their blood to get rid of Saddam. But they are not under any circumstances welcoming the occupiers. There are 14 to 20 assaults or ‘incidents’ taking place every day against the US or British troops in Baghdad alone.
At the same time, the Iraqis are suffering - I wouldn’t say worse or better than before, there’s no way to compare - but definitely it is a continuation of suffering for Iraqi people on all levels. They are suffering from unemployment and lack of security. Some of my family - my sisters, my nieces - haven’t left their houses in the last four or five months. And because of the heat of the summer, and because they don’t have electricity or water, they’ve been reduced to living in two rooms. We’re talking about seven or eight people living in the kitchen and one bedroom, because this is the only area they can have the air conditioning working. They spend most of their time in a struggle to arrange electricity.
My brother just came back from Iraq. He said some people are happy because they got rid of Saddam. But that doesn’t mean they are happy accepting the occupation. By six or seven o’clock at night no one is on the streets. There are three main streets in Baghdad. My brother is a pharmacist on one of them. By 1.30pm he has to close and leave because it’s too dangerous to stay there. What kind of liberation is this?
If we look back before this so called ‘liberation’ the only way Saddam could control this country was by force, by combining a very strong, oppressive regime with the full support of the west. Iraqi people were capable of changing that regime on their own, if it hadn’t been for the west supplying weapons and all kinds of support.
Increasing the number of troops in Iraq isn’t going to sort anything out. The only way they can sort out the situation is to hand it over to Iraqis themselves with the help of the UN and the NGOs.
I’ll give you this example: the first couple of days of the occupation, a delegation of engineers went to the Palestine Hotel and spoke to the commander. They said, ‘Look, we can start repairing the electricity, we can do something. We did it before, during the sanctions years, we know very well how to deal with this problem. Let us do it.’ He told them to leave immediately because they were waiting for consultants to arrive from Washington.
It’s the same thing with the troops. Unless Iraqi people are in charge there is no way they can hold a big country like this - a country with a long history of struggle against one of the most oppressive regimes. They’re going to train policemen - will there be more control on the streets? I don’t think so. Any policeman is going to turn against the Americans sooner or later. If they establish a new army, this army is going to turn against them sooner or later. They are really trapped there.
Just have a quick look at the modern history of Iraq. Look back to the 1920s and see how they dealt with the British. It doesn’t take a genius to see they are doing exactly the same thing at the moment.
Iraqi who works for the Stop the War Coalition
Every meeting that we do, when we call for the troops to be withdrawn, many people’s concern - purely from a humanitarian basis - is that if the troops are withdrawn, Iraq will fall into more and more chaos. Therefore they argue that they should be withdrawn more slowly and that the UN should be put in to look after the Iraqis until they get back on their feet. The second thing that they feel very strongly about is that Britain and the US should compensate them for the chaos that they’ve put their country into.
These are exactly the same reasons why a lot of these people marched on 15 February - they want what’s best for the Iraqis. What I say at meetings is that if Iraqis themselves call for the UN to come in then that’s fine - that’s up to the Iraqis to determine their own fate. But one thing that the Iraqis I speak to probably hate equally, if not more, than the US and British troops is the UN - because it was the UN that imposed sanctions on them. So if you speak to any Iraqi that lived in Iraq pre-1991 they talk about Iraq pre the sanctions and during the sanctions, and how the sanctions absolutely ruined their lives. You know the figures about kids dying, but they also talk about inflation - the fact that a chicken costs a month’s wages and so on.
It’s not a difficult argument to win, but it takes some time to get over to people, and that’s why it’s really important that meetings take place around the country. But I think the resistance movement out there will not distinguish between a blue helmet and a US helmet. Any soldier that is not an Iraqi will be a target.
What the UN will do, I feel, is prolong the battle that’s taking place in Iraq at the moment and let the US and Britain off the hook, releasing those troops maybe to go and fight another war. All the time those troops are tied up in Iraq it’s going to make it near impossible for Bush and Blair to go on to their next country.
Leader of the Muslim Parliament
The lie that there was any legal or moral justification for the war on Iraq is now completely exposed. There are no weapons of mass destruction; there is no link between Saddam Hussein’s regime and Al Qaida.
It’s now obvious that the neoconservatives in the US have been planning to attack and acquire Iraq whatever happened to Saddam Hussein. When Bush came to power they put this plan into top gear. It appears now that 11 September 2001 was used as a cover to carry out their operation. If you remember, we were told immediately after 11 September that the US wanted to attack Iraq. It was Blair who somehow managed to persuade Bush that they should go for Afghanistan first, then Iraq.
We also know that the Americans know that there are two areas where major sources of oil exist - Central Asia and of course Iraq. The wars against Afghanistan and Iraq were waged to undermine these two areas because Afghanistan provides the shortest route for any oil pipeline from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean. So this is how Afghanistan came to be at war. This war was about resources and markets, nothing else.
They did not think of the consequences - that if you attack innocent people for no reason then they’re going to resist. And this is precisely what is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq. Ordinary people who have nothing to do with Bin Laden or the Taliban or Saddam Hussein are simply resisting because it is their land, their houses and their lives that have been destroyed.
The way that Bush is now trying to find some fig leaf of legitimacy through the UN shows that they now recognise how stupid this whole operation was. They were so arrogant that they wanted to go and reap the benefits without regard for all the other possible interests in the international arena. But they are now stuck.
This is once again a challenge to the other members of the Security Council and to other nations. A challenge to see that we could use the crisis to bring about changes in the UN and also to recognise that the US was a superpower - and is a superpower - but that there are limits to its power. Iraq has shown that even the greatest power on earth cannot go and tamper with other lands the way they are doing.
There is real chaos in Iraq. If there is a situation where the Americans totally hand over the control of decision making to the UN and they declare that they are going to hand over the destiny of Iraq to local people, then I think a case can be made that the UN comes in to sort out this very difficult situation. But ongoing occupation is something that we should not accept and we cannot accept. A solution has to be found and the coalition forces have to leave Iraq and hand over power to the Iraqi people under the supervision of the UN.
Newham Monitoring Project
There is an alternative to any occupation - a country run and ruled by the people of that country. And the Iraqi people, who have thousands of years of civilisation (and Iraq was the cradle of civilisation), can probably teach Tony Blair something about democracy. If this is Tony Blair’s example of running a country - where power, water and all sorts of infrastructure are completely creaking or nonexistent; where crime and death is an everyday occurrence; where we’re seeing trigger-happy occupation forces - then I think the Iraqi people have got a right to say it’s not much of a template.
There’s a lot of quite legitimate discussion about the role of the UN. But I think that the key issue is about ending the occupation. If UN involvement means the British and US troops and authorities having to give up political and economic control of Iraq I think that would be a great victory, not only around the issue of Iraq, but it will also deal a damaging blow to the concept of ‘full spectrum dominance’, of the ‘new US empire’ and so on. But I don’t think the UN should be an issue that divides us. We all agree that the occupation must end, and that has to be our key objective, our key demand. And that key demand has to be related to what the Iraqi people are actually calling for.
What needs to be taking place in Iraq at the moment is the moves that have already started to happen on the ground, which include a legitimate assembly of people - not handpicked US cronies to sit on a de facto council, but the legitimate representatives of people making decisions. If people are saying within Iraq, ‘For six months interim, we prefer the UN to take control rather than the US administration with all its economic and political chicanery and corruption and violence on the streets,’ then I understand that in very real terms.
From speaking to comrades in Iraq I think that the ultimate goal is that Iraqi people should be having fair and free elections and people should be electing their own leadership and their own government and that all foreign troops should immediately leave. Whether someone is wearing a blue hat or the US Stars and Stripes I think the occupation is still the occupation - and ending it has to be the united demand of all the movement. So I welcome discussions about tactics and strategy but I think the principle remains: Iraq for the Iraqi people, all foreign troops out of Iraq.
Clearly anybody who opposed the war from the outset continues to oppose it and the aftermath. People in the Stop the War Coalition warned that the aftermath would unlock mayhem in the Middle East - and this is what has happened. And the attitude of the Iraqi people is quite clear - they see the British and the Americans, particularly the Americans, as an occupying force. It’s a measure of Bush’s failure that he’s now trying to get the UN in to clear up the mess.
The UN has to take advantage of the US’s weakness in trying to deal with Iraq by demanding full control over what’s happening and getting rid of the US and British power there. The UN itself needs to be reformed so that this is a democratic forum. This inner sanctum of the big nations in the Security Council is completely undemocratic. But in the meantime they have to demand that the US and Britain give up their powers in Iraq. Otherwise we just go along and do the US’s bidding.
General Secretary PCS
I opposed the reckless war on Iraq, and I’m totally against the ongoing occupation of that country. The war was about controlling oil supplies and asserting US global dominance, and the occupation - so called ‘liberation’ - is merely the continuation of that project.
George Bush and Tony Blair declared victory in Iraq and yet innocent Iraqis and soldiers continue to die, the country is a humanitarian disaster racked with unrest and insecurity. What sort of ‘victory’ is that? It seems that what Bush and Blair mean by victory is opening up the country to US oil and mobile phone companies. Not the provision of basic food, water and electricity supplies to ordinary Iraqis.
PCS is attempting to campaign through the TUC and international trade union bodies for the right of the peoples of Iraq, including the Kurds, to determine their future rather than the US government. In particular, we want to give support to Iraqi workers seeking to form free trade unions.
Our 2003 annual conference decided to affiliate to the Stop the War Coalition and we continue to urge our members to support its activities. The Coalition has worked impressively to unite people across a broad base in common cause against the war. That will be, I hope, a lasting legacy for the continuing struggle for peace that we will no doubt face in the coming months and years.
School Students Against the War
I think the school students have been really aware that the situation in Iraq is not liberation - it is occupation. They can see on the news that Iraqis are demonstrating against it and I think that really came out when Blairite MP Stephen Twigg visited our school recently. He was asked all sorts of difficult questions about the war - to do with where the weapons are, and why they ignored young people’s views on going to war in the first place.
We organised good strikes and protests in my school in the run-up to the invasion, and the atmosphere was really anti-war during Twigg’s visit. Everyone was wearing anti-war stickers and we hung anti-war T-shirts from the balcony. People I hadn’t previously thought were involved in the anti-war movement were asking difficult questions. Some of those who had been pro-war felt really betrayed by the fact that the government was lying and they’d believed them. So there were questions about whether they could trust the government, about why the US was still in Iraq. He told us he really cared about young people’s views. That was a big mistake! There were also questions linking the money spent on war with top-up fees and the teacher shortage.
The troops aren’t ‘sorting out the chaos’. The Iraqis themselves are demonstrating against them and they’ve said they want them out of their country. If the US wants to bomb them into democracy, democracy is about having a say, so the Iraqis should be allowed to decide their own government.
I don’t know whether the UN will send in troops. A lot of people argue that the UN should be involved but the UN has proved itself an almost redundant organisation. Maybe they do need help rebuilding but I don’t think the UN is the right organisation to be doing it.