Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1938

Getting the troops out is still the key demand after the Iraqi election

This article is over 17 years, 4 months old
Bush and Blair’s war has brought instability to the whole of the Middle East, says Stop the War convenor Lindsey German
Issue 1938
Crushing democracy. A British tank on the streets of Basra, Iraq
Crushing democracy. A British tank on the streets of Basra, Iraq

George Bush’s recent state of the union speech was frightening. In it he named Syria and Iran as countries where the US wants to see regime change — just as he did in his axis of evil speech. If they do attack Syria or Iran, this will have serious consequences throughout the region. People should not think that this is an idle threat.

In the early 1970s, the US was bogged down in Vietnam — faced with a huge anti-war movement at home and sustained opposition from the Vietnamese national liberation forces. Instead of drawing the conclusion that they could not win and withdrawing, the US attacked Cambodia, killing over one million and bringing disaster for that country as well.

That’s why getting the troops out of the Middle East remains the central issue for the anti-war movement.

Soon Britain may be the only ally of the US there, and that means that we have a grave responsibility to bring the troops home and remove Bush’s last fig leaf.

Whatever we think of the regime in Iran — and it’s not any less democratic than most in the Middle East — we must defend it from attack by the US and Britain. Any attack on Iran would not be about nuclear weapons or women’s liberation. It will be about the US empire extending its power further.

Such attacks can only be stopped by a combination of the resistance that would surely come from Iranians to this, and from the movement in the West. The resistance to the occupation of Iraq also seems set to continue. Blair, Bush and the media are trying to claim that the elections in Iraq are a turning point. But we have heard claims about turning points many times before.

We heard it when the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down, when Saddam’s sons — Uday and Qusay — were shot by the occupiers, and again when Saddam was arrested. We heard it when there was a supposed handover of power, and then when the occupiers flattened Fallujah. Each time they said it would be the end of the resistance, that Iraq was on course for democracy. And each time we found out they were telling lies. This election will make no real difference to the situation in Iraq.

The economy and military are still controlled by the US. Any elected government is supposed to have the power to ask the US to leave, but the US is currently building 14 permanent bases in Iraq and they will only leave when they want — or are forced to.

We are likely to see increasing resistance and discontent among large sections of both Shia and Sunni communities. There is a fundamental problem in the way that the US read the election. The Kurds voted in large numbers but they also voted for independence which they won’t get.

The Shias voted in large numbers because they want the US to leave — the Sunnis boycotted in large numbers for precisely the same reason.

Every major political party had the end of the occupation as a central plank of their campaign. Therefore, you can only conclude that Iraqis voted for the troops to go.

This is not the spin that is put on it by the US and British media, but it is the reality. These very were peculiar elections by any standards. They took place under martial law with international observers “supervising” from Jordan. Most of the candidates were not named and most polling stations were not publicised in advance.

If these elections had taken place anywhere else in the world they would have been denounced as undemocratic and unfair. The elections won’t mean the end of the resistance. As long as the occupation goes on, resistance will continue and grow.

It will grow as, in reality, life has got much worse for ordinary Iraqis since the end of the war — people have to queue for petrol, there are shortages of water and electricity, and many have no work. Life is much worse for those who live in the refugee camps following the attack on Fallujah.

The only argument you hear now from the warmongers is that without the war we wouldn’t have got rid of Saddam. This is a common view in parts of the British media such as the BBC.

But without the war we also wouldn’t have had at least 100,000 Iraqis killed (the figure given by the Lancet medical journal), the destruction of Fallujah, or the growing resistance and increased instability in the whole of the Middle East.

The anti-war movement never had any doubt that most Iraqis wanted to get rid of Saddam, but war and occupation were never the way to do it. The disaster we have seen since then has been the absolute proof of that.

The argument from Bush and Blair — that the war was in the interest of the Iraqis — is the last self-serving argument of a set of scoundrels who told us a pack of lies in the run-up to the invasion. They say nothing about Iraq’s neighbour, Saudi Arabia, where there are no plans for elections, and they say nothing about the dictatorial methods of their allies, like Mubarak in Egypt or the autocratic monarchy of Jordan.

It is for Iraqis, and Iraqis only, to decide the future of their country. They are more than capable of doing that without the “help” of the very forces that crushed democracy in the Middle East in the first place.

Iraq has a history of being one of the most secular states in the Middle East. It has a history of very little ethnic or sectarian strife.

The fact that any sectarianism has increased, and that the elections were contested on ethnic grounds, tells us that the US and Britain have a policy of divide and rule. The former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger made it clear recently that he would be prepared to see Iraq divided up into three states if this allowed the US to maintain its rule.

There is a danger of ethnic division, which the occupiers are making more likely. The only way you can talk about Iraqis living in peace together is by allowing them to live in a genuine democracy of their own choosing. If these elections had taken place two years ago as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani wanted there would have been much less of this division.

Bush and Blair’s problems in Iraq itself are mirrored by the problems they face at home. The continual war that Bush talks about is not what people want.

Bush is coming to Europe this month — but he is only visiting Brussels, Mainz and Bratislava. He dare not visit London, Rome or Madrid as he knows he will be met with huge demos. I’m sure that he will be met with protests in those cities he does visit .

Blair has no moral authority on Iraq — and therefore not much moral authority on anything else. New Labour is going into an election where it keeps hoping it can draw a line under Iraq.

Yet the election will have the war at the centre of it — a poll last week showed that 31 percent of people asked said they intended to change the way they voted because of the war. They don’t agree with Labour on pensions, schools or housing, but the war is the thing that makes people so bitter at Blair.

I hope that Labour does get a bloody nose in the election and that, in particular, Respect will get a good vote and show that you can build a decent, principled left alternative to Labour.

We have to hold Blair to account for the 100,000 dead, his lies, his warmongering and his hypocrisy.

We will do this on 19 March, where we expect the largest demo since Bush’s visit in November 2003.

We must work very hard to ensure that we get a large demonstration on this day. The huge 15 February 2003 demonstration was built by tens of thousands of people booking coaches, leafletting their schools, hospitals, churches, mosques and colleges.

If we want a mass demo again we have to repeat this.

Leaflet your street, advertise the demo through union branches — nearly all major unions are affiliated to Stop the War — get the school and college students active.

The mood is certainly there for a massive turnout — lots of recent Stop the War meetings have been as big as at any time. There was a 600-strong meeting in Manchester, 200 people in south London and 170 in Tottenham last week.

We have to make sure that everyone knows that the demo is taking place and how they can get to London.

We can’t just wait and see the situation get worse. We must make a stand now.

Lindsey German is the convenor of the Stop the War Coalition. She writes in a personal capacity.

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