By Andrew StoneLindsey German
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 292

Interview: Going from Bad to Worse

This article is over 17 years, 7 months old
The coming few months are crucial ones for all those opposed to war and imperialism, as Lindsey German explains to Andrew Stone.
Issue 292

What do you think we can expect from the elections in Iraq at the end of the month?

Nothing will fundamentally change as a result of the elections. If they go ahead – and it looks like they will – very large parts of the country will be effectively excluded. Sunnis in particular feel very disaffected and want to boycott. There are many other parties who’ve also called to delay the elections. And most of the people who want to go ahead are doing so because they feel that this will then put them in a position to tell the Americans to leave.

Whatever the outcome, it’s not going to create the stable society that the Americans and the British are hoping for. We’ll be told that this is another transfer to democracy and that it will make all the difference; but most likely everything will continue as it has in recent months. The elections themselves do not alter the real balance of power in Iraq, with security and financial decisions being made by the real rulers, the US. We’ve seen this before with the creation of the Coalition Provisional Authority back in May 2003; when they killed Uday and Qusay Hussein; when they captured Saddam Hussein last December; and when they had the ‘handover of power’ last June. And every time they said, ‘This is drawing a line; now there won’t be any resistance.’ Instead what looks likely is that the resistance will continue, and may well grow – as it has done over the last year.

We don’t hear about it now but almost every day soldiers are killed; foreign and Iraqi personnel who work for the occupying forces are killed. All that will continue.

What are your thoughts on the deployment of more British reservists in Iraq?

There will be real trouble among the reservists, a lot of opposition. Discontent is running high among the military families. For Tony Blair that’s a huge problem because the British ruling class has long been able to rely on a stable military. Many of the soldiers come from families with other people in the military and have always been very loyal. In this war a number of families have spoken out. They are only the tip of the iceberg. There is also real discontent among the troops themselves. Again it’s impossible to tell how widespread that is. But there are a number of indications that people are unhappy being sent to Iraq.

People in the Territorial Army engage in part time soldiering and regard it as something that they do in their spare time. They’re now finding that this is taking over their lives. It puts them in danger and their families don’t want them to go. If you’re in the Territorial Army, or the National Guard in the US, you expect to be an auxiliary part of the military and not to be centrally involved in fighting wars.

When you add to that how this war is widely regarded as illegitimate and unlawful, there’s a sense among lots of British soldiers that this is ‘not our war’ – that it’s an American war. Britain’s government has always been enthusiastic for the war – we know that – but we also know that the population of Britain has been very unenthusiastic at best.

And of course the death toll will increase, just as the Americans’ is increasing. It’s now reaching Vietnam-style proportions, with a lot more wounded. The US wounded are now something like nine times the number of those killed. Many of these people are seriously injured. They go back to the US or Britain and they find that there’s no real support for them. In a broader sense, sending more troops into a war that they cannot win is only dragging the British government deeper into the mire, as it was when it backed the US in Fallujah.

The British and the Americans have destroyed Fallujah. There is death and destruction and they say that it’s too dangerous to enter the city because of the rabid dogs and raw sewage – when they’re the ones who have created this health hazard. They’re enforcing the most extreme repression: you’ve always got to carry identity cards; you’re fingerprinted – and they say they’ve got no quarrel with the Iraqi people! If you do that to an entire city it’s bound to make people more bitter about the Americans, and more and more likely, at least passively, to support the resistance.

What does this mean for the Stop the War Coalition’s campaigning in the new year?

We have a plan of action. We’re going to focus on the US presidential inauguration on 20 January, when there will be protests in Britain; on 15 February we’re having a day of disobedience when we hope people will be involved in action – including direct action – against the occupation; and on 19 March we’ve got a very big protest planned as part of an international day of action, to call for the troops to be brought home and to call for an end to the occupation.

There is renewed interest in the anti-war movement. It’s partly triggered by the military families’ campaign, which has been very successful in drawing attention to the situation of the British soldiers. It’s partly triggered by the daily horror of what’s going on. The Lancet survey put the number of deaths at 100,000. Jack Straw denies this figure, but of course he has no idea what the figure is. He’s the foreign secretary of an occupying power and he can’t even be bothered to count the Iraqi dead, although we know precisely how many Americans and British have died. It shows their priorities. I think this makes people very angry.

The Law Lords’ decision on the internment of foreign nationals can also help build the protests. The government and the unlamented David Blunkett have been roundly condemned by the highest court in Britain. One judge said that their laws, not the terrorist threat, are the biggest threat to our freedom. The attacks on civil liberties have enraged many people, not least in the Muslim community.

As well as that Bush’s re-election strikes fear into people’s hearts. They feel that this is an extremely right wing government which has attacked civil liberties – both of its own citizens and of foreign citizens in Guantanamo Bay. It’s a government which is committed, through its ‘war on terror’, to further attacks. We’ve had Afghanistan, which remains a disaster despite the ludicrous presidential inauguration of Hamid Karzai. And they’re now talking very ominously about Iran – as if Iranian nuclear weapons were the big problem in the world. Now I’m not in favour of nuclear weapons anywhere, but it is the height of hypocrisy to have this as a pretext for war when you have a number of countries – Israel, India and Pakistan, but most importantly the US and Britain – with such lethal nuclear arsenals.

We live in a world where half of the children who have died in recent years have died as a result of war. There’s now very strongly a divide between the tiny minority of people who run the world economically – and want to run it militarily as well – and the people who suffer in the world. Whatever our differences in terms of background, culture, religion and race, we are united in opposition to war, poverty, privatisation. This is a major division and one which is going to increasingly mark the protests of the future. And that’s why Stop the War is also a transformative movement which is against racism and in defence of civil liberties.

One of the other important things we can do in Stop the War is to say that US imperialism isn’t all-powerful. And that’s quite a difficult argument because people say, ‘We marched and we didn’t stop the war. What could we have done differently?’ But I think you only have to project an idea of no opposition to the ‘war on terror’ when it started in 2001, no opposition to the Afghan and Iraq wars, to see how much worse things would be. We’ve prevented those wars being carried out uncontested in the way that they were when the first imperialists slaughtered people in the name of free market civilisation and Christianity. We have achieved a great deal in informing and organising people to oppose the war, and new people are supporting us all the time.

It’s extremely important, particularly in the imperialist countries, that we do have a movement that says that the Americans may be strong enough militarily to kill many people, to invade countries and to topple governments – but they’re not strong enough to just ride roughshod over the movements and protests which have gathered against them. The great achievement of the Stop the War movement has not only been to mobilise millions of people but also to shift the level of consciousness to the left against war, militarism and global capitalism.

And what will this mean in terms of the likely British elections in May?

The war will be a major question. I know that they’re hoping that the Iraq elections will draw a line but I don’t believe it. Everywhere I go people say that this government has behaved in the most shameful way. And now they are attacking pensions, saying workers have to work longer because we can’t afford it, but there is always money for war. It is amazing that not a single person who supported this war, who carried out the propaganda, who was responsible for the dossier, for reporting to parliament or for dismantling Iraq’s infrastructure – not a single one of these people has resigned.

David Blunkett has resigned essentially over his personal relationships but he should have resigned for encouraging Islamophobia, for saying that Muslims should speak English when they’re at home. Along with Bush and the rest he has made Britain a more dangerous place. If there is a terrorist attack the responsibility lies with the people who haven’t dealt with any of the causes of terrorism but who have inflamed the situation by invading an Arab country in the teeth of opposition from millions of people around the world. Now we’re seeing the terrible consequences of that.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance