SOME 40 percent of people in Britain firmly oppose war on Iraq, according to a poll on Monday. You wouldn’t get that impression from the debate over Iraq in parliament that same day. Most of the debate was over how to wage a war.
The government’s motion praised the United Nations for falling into line with US demands over Iraq. At any time the US can drum up a pretext for war, backed by Britain.
Some 32 Labour MPs defied the government. They had to do so by backing a Liberal Democrat amendment that any war should first get the explicit support of the UN. This was because the Speaker of the House of Commons has the power to pick a single amendment for the debate, ruling out the chance for a vote on an anti-war position.
Anti-war MPs desperately tried to speak in the six-hour debate. But only three were chosen out of the 26 MPs who took part in the debate (or just 12 percent of the total). They had only eight minutes each to put their case. George Galloway, one of the most high profile figures against war on Iraq, was not allowed to speak, despite repeated efforts. Neither were Alice Mahon and Alan Simpson.
Those Labour MPs who were chosen put clear anti-war arguments. Jeremy Corbyn, MP for North Islington in London, said: ‘We still have a parliamentary system where only the Speaker chooses the amendments for debate. I deeply regret that we have not had the opportunity to show our opposition to war. We are asked to approve a UN resolution that came about after several weeks and months of arm twisting amongst the security council’s five permanent members. These five are declared nuclear states and these five have the power of veto. There is a question as to the influence and power exercised by the US to get a 15-0 vote over the resolution.
‘Since 11 September we have been told of the US’s great restraint and caution. But there has been the ‘axis of evil’ speech and therefore great fear amongst these countries that the US was preparing for war. There is the overwhelming military power of the US. It has more and more bases round the world and is spending more on weapons of mass destruction. Yet it can’t provide healthcare for 40 million US citizens. Is it ‘engaging with the rest of the world’? It refused to sign the Kyoto agreement or attend the recent Earth Summit. This is not a war about human rights or peace or democracy. It is about US commercial control in the Middle East.’
He responded to an interruption by the foreign secretary Jack Straw with, ‘You say it’s OK to go to the UN if there is no danger of anyone disagreeing!’ Corbyn went on, ‘Eight thousand people died in Afghanistan. It did not bring back any of those who died in New York. Yet a new generation has grown up in favour of peace. These people are marching, meeting, demonstrating for peace, and they represent the fundamental mood of people round the world who are not in favour of bombardment of Iraq, and want peace.’
‘WHEN PEOPLE talk lightly about bombing Iraq it makes me freeze,’ said Liverpool Labour MP Bob Wareing in his speech. He said, ‘There are two groups of people on the issue of military action. The first are those who suffer the most. They are the sort of people I saw last May when visiting hospitals in Baghdad. They were cancer patients. One was a young girl with a massive tumour round her neck. Sitting on her bed was a tiny child she will never see grow up. There has been a 10 percent increase in cancer rates where bombs were dropped containing depleted uranium. There has been an increase in deformed children being born. The photos have to be seen to be believed.
This is the reality of war. Saddam Hussein, an evil monster, does not have the capability of Adolf Hitler. It is nonsense to say he does. The sanctions imposed on Iraq have not weakened Saddam Hussein. On the contrary they have hurt the people we say we have no argument with. They are the sort of people I saw and I wish the foreign secretary and prime minister could go and see the reality for themselves. The bombing did not stop in 1991. It went on and on.
There was no UN resolution to sanction it. The second group are the people most pleased to see any bombing. Al Qaida will be gloating because when photos are shown of cities torn to pieces by US bombs the masses of Arab people will be the ones to stir. Who is the real threat in the Middle East? There is a madman in Baghdad, but President Bush and the hawks round him are the ones I fear most, and are feared by the people of the Middle East.
I will stand by the civilians, the ones to suffer if Bush and the hawks get their way. The foreign secretary and his colleagues should think carefully about appeasing the US administration. The sooner decent people in the US are able to elect a president who is not a moron, the better for all of us.’
THE OTHER Labour MP to speak against war was Neil Gerrard, MP for Walthamstow in east London. He said, ‘I must say I’m still fundamentally opposed to an attack on Iraq. I’ll support the amendment from the Liberal Democrats, even though I don’t entirely agree with it, as it is the nearest to my view. I suspect we will not have a second chance. I don’t believe we will have an opportunity to vote on military action. There has been a lot of debate about the legality of the situation, coupled with ‘The UN must act or be discredited’.
A lot of that debate is as if the UN arrived at its resolution through expressing the feeling of all the other states and with no pressure from the US. This is even though the US has routinely chosen to ignore UN resolutions itself. We are asked to support the UN and at the same time we are told government reserves the right to ignore what the UN is saying if we don’t like it. I cannot see how any argument about being humanitarian or over self defence can be applied to Iraq. Is it ‘legally’ different to what Israel has been doing?
The fact that action against Iraq may be legal does not mean it may be sensible. There are real fears about the political consequences of war on Iraq. There will be devastating consequences for the whole Middle East region.
No neighbouring country to Iraq is demanding military action. There is the nightmare scenario of an attack that ends up provoking Israel. Was Saddam Hussein an evil dictator when Donald Rumsfeld was shaking his hand and this country supplied him with weapons? Who will be the people who suffer? Who will die? Innocent civilians.’
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