Socialist Worker

'Our sons were lied to and sent to die in Iraq'

Issue No. 1981

Cindy Sheehan and Rose Gentle, mothers who have both lost sons in Iraq, embrace at the International Peace Conference
 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Cindy Sheehan and Rose Gentle, mothers who have both lost sons in Iraq, embrace at the International Peace Conference (Pic: Guy Smallman)

One of the most inspiring parts of the conference was the session on the campaigns by military families against the war in the US and Britain.

Chris Nineham from the Stop the War Coalition has assisted the military families campaign.

He told the conference that a leaked document from the Ministry of Defence revealed that there is a 7,000 shortfall in the Territorial Army and that recruitment to the Scottish regiments is at a standstill.

“Over the coming months Stop the War groups should be strengthening our work with the military families and with members of the armed forces who are coming out against the occupation,” he said.

Many of the family representatives who spoke at the conference said that their loved ones had been sent to fight and die on a lie.

“We were told there was a mad man who threatened us all,” said John Miller, whose son Simon was killed in Iraq. “But the mad man turned out to be the man in charge of our country.”

Kelly Dougherty served in the US National Guard for eight years and spent a year in Iraq. “On Monday we would go to an orphanage to hand out sweets,” she said. “But you couldn’t help wondering if they were orphans because of the bombs we dropped.

“When we conduct bombing raids we report that 70 insurgents have been killed and we ignore the children blown apart by our bombs.”

She said there were now over 300 Iraq veterans who had come together to oppose the war and occupation.

There was a standing ovation for Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq. Earlier this year she helped to reinvigorated the anti-war movement in the US by camping outside George Bush’s ranch, demanding the right to ask the president why her son died.

She denounced the “war criminals who reside at 10 Downing Street and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue”.

“US vice-president Dick Cheney had five deferments from military service during Vietnam,” she continued. “The president went AWOL from the Alabama National Guard. These are the despicable cowards who misuse our sons.”

She too called for the immediate end of the occupation, adding, “It is arrogant and ­racist to say the Iraqis can’t run their own country.”

As well as endorsing the initiatives taken by the wider anti-war movement, the session highlighted a focus on supporting soldiers who refuse to fight.

One of them, Ben Griffin, told delegates, “Until June this year I was a soldier in the SAS and was serving in Iraq. What’s going on there is like a gold rush town in 19th century America.

“The indigenous people are having a way of life forced on them on the one side, on the other multinational corporations are plundering resources and making money out of the people’s misery.

“Look at what’s happened over the last eight years. In 1997 we were told we would have an ethical foreign policy. Now we have become the lap dogs of US imperialism.

“We are supposedly fighting for democracy, but Tony Blair is ripping apart democracy at home.

“I volunteered nine years ago, but I have to say I was wrong to go to Iraq. I have recovered broken bodies from the battlefield and all for what? It was for the interests of the multinational companies.

“I volunteered for the army. But the Iraqis didn’t volunteer for ten years of sanctions, to be invaded, for the destruction of their country or for production sharing agreements that drain the country’s oil wealth.

“They didn’t volunteer to have thousands of mercenaries roaming the country and doing what they want. They didn’t volunteer for white phosphorous, Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.

“You face a moral dilemma in the army. You are trained to follow orders, but you also have a moral obligation to do what is right. Standing by while others commit crimes makes you guilty as well.

“And history has shown that using the excuse that you were only following orders is unacceptable.”

Many speakers renewed the calls for protests across Britain on the day when tragically the 100th British soldier is killed.

Speakers in the session were Cindy Sheehan, Rose Gentle, Medea Benjamin, Kelly Dougherty, Reg Keys, Peter Brierley, Ben Griffin, John Miller and Chris Nineham. It was chaired by Andrew Burgin and Judy Linehan.

Call for union solidarity

Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, spoke at the conference, underlining the importance of solidarity with anti-occupation trade unionists in Iraq.

But he warned that this solidarity must not come at the expense of opposition to the US-led occupation of the country. “Those who say these links are more important than getting the troops out of Iraq are missing the point,” he said.

“If a country is occupied, sending trade unionists a few typewriters is no substitute for campaigning to get those troops out of that country.”

Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who was sacked by foreign secretary Jack Straw for speaking out against torture, welcomed trade union involvement. But, he added, “I would pay more attention to trade unions if they stopped funding the party of the most right wing ­government in British history.”

George Galloway MP also raised the issue of trade unions.“One aim of our movement has to be building stronger links with the Iraqi people who are resisting occupation,” he said.

“Let’s raise support in union branches for Hassan Jummah and the oil workers union. Let’s send them computer equipment, paper and materials.”

The Basra oil workers union has been using such material support to churn out leaflets opposing the occupation and the privatisation of Iraq’s oil, and supporting the popular resistance.

Delegates cut through the nonsense

One of the highlights of the conference came in the evening session when Walter Wolfgang, the anti-war campaigner who was thrown out of the Labour Party conference for shouting “Nonsense!” at foreign secretary Jack Straw, spoke.

He noted that many who now admit the war was a mistake still think US and British troops should stay to “clean up the mess”.

“Now that really is nonsense,” he said. “If your house is burgled and in consequence the lounge needs redecoration, you don’t call up the burglars to do it.”

The peace conference heard two moving appeals from relatives of Britons currently being held in detention on trumped up terrorism charges.

Amani Deghayes, the sister of Guantanamo detainee Omar Deghayes, told delegates about how her brother had been blinded in one eye by the US military. She urged people to support a demonstration in his support in London on Saturday 21 January.

Ashfaq Ahmad, the father of Babar Ahmad, also spoke about how his son was being threatened with extradition to the US on terrorism charges.

Delegates were angry that the British government had denied a visa to Sheik Hassan al-Zagani, foreign affairs spokesperson for Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Iraqi cleric who opposes the occupation.

The British authorities also put pressure on the Lebanese government to kick Sheik Zagani out of Beirut, where he was resident.

According to the Stop the War Coalition, Sheik Zagani is now in Damascus, Syria, and is not permitted to return to Beirut. His wife, three children and his mother must also all leave Lebanon.

“The British and US governments send armies to occupy Iraq but are frightened of one person speaking at a peace conference in London,” said Sheik Zagani in a statement read out to the conference.

“So much for the democracy which they claim to install in Iraq.

“They were not satisfied with banning me from Britain, but have now succeeded in expelling me and my family from Lebanon in this inhumane and vindictive way.”

Voices raised for peace

“I’ve been against the war from the outset. My daughter is of the same opinion. My union branch was happy to send me and another delegate here.”
Marion Morris Delegate from Glasgow T&G union housing associations branch

“I’ll go back to my college and talk about what needs to be done. We need to get more students involved and to build the 18 March demonstration.”
Hasseeb Choudray, 17, Mathew Bolton College, Birmingham

“I’ve been on all the anti?war marches. The war was wrong and the occupation is wrong. I’ve particularly enjoyed hearing those from the US at the conference.”
Helena Woodward, 14, Preston Manor School, Brent, North West London

“This International Peace Conference is much needed.

“I’ll be reporting back to my union branch and I’m pleased most of my Respect branch from Newham are here.”
Lane Taylor Central London PCS civil service workers’ union revenue and customs branch

“I like the diversity here, all the different backgrounds. I’ll be going back to ensure we get organised to raise awareness.”
Naveed Iqbal President of Bradford College students’ union

“Central Bristol health branch of Unison has sent four delegates—a porter who is a shop steward, a nursing steward, an outreach worker and myself.”
Chrissy Gardner Unison shop steward Bristol Children’s Hospital

“I’m here to show my opposition to the occupation and to any threat against Iran. It’s not just my opposition but my union branch’s.

“It was unanimous in its opposition to the war.”
Taira Afzal Delegate from Sheffield Napo probation officers’ union branch

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