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Proletarian issue 10 (February 2006)
Peace conference organisers get more than they bargained for
How the Iraqi resistance leads the willing and drags the unwilling.
There could be no more telling indication of the influence the ever-stronger Iraqi resistance is having upon public opinion within imperialist society in Britain and the USA than the schizophrenic character of the Stop the War ‘Peace Conference’ held in London on 10 December.

Despite the best efforts of the national steering committee to keep the politics of the event crippled by its own dire social-democratic, Trotskyite and revisionist shortcomings, again and again the just revolutionary struggle of the Iraqi nation against the oppressive war and occupation reclaimed its proper place at centre stage.

From the outset it was made plain by Andrew Murray, Lindsey German and the rest that the ambition was to draw together Iraqi, British and US “voices” in a lowest common denominator feel-good campaign to “bring the troops home”. In particular, it was painfully obvious that the blinkered StWC leadership were relying heavily upon the media circus around the personally courageous stand taken by bereaved US army mother Cindy Sheehan to drown out any more considered analysis of the relationship between the Iraqi resistance struggle and the huge explosion of anti-war sentiment in the West. This groundswell of opposition in the States was alternately described in wondering tones as “miraculous” or presented as the inspired and exclusive handiwork of a handful of US peace activists.

Such a trivial analysis fails to do justice to the real significance of the brave stand taken by those bereaved relatives and reformed veterans - a stand that speaks volumes about the demoralisation now spreading like wildfire through military ranks on both sides of the Atlantic. It also wilfully seeks to hide the material roots of that moral phenomenon: the defeats inflicted upon the imperialist aggressors by the spirited resistance of the Iraqi nation risen in arms.

Exposing the lies

But what some at the conference sought to hide, others made it their responsibility to blazon forth. Iraqi writer Sami Ramadani explained that the Big Lie about Weapons of Mass Destruction had now been replaced by a new Big Lie: the pretence that Iraqis were now so split up into rival warring camps that withdrawal of troops would immediately trigger civil war. Not so, he explained. It was the imperialist troops, assisted by their death squads, mercenaries and agents provocateurs, who were doing their utmost to promote civil war in Iraq, just as had been attempted in Vietnam with the Phoenix Programme. Indeed, US generals were on record openly confirming this as current US policy. And who was working for the unity of Iraq, against this policy of divide and rule? It was that very same patriotic Iraqi resistance that the imperialist propaganda are maligning as the instigators of civil strife.

Nazeem Younis, from the Association of Muslim Scholars, noted that sunni and shia communities had a long history of peaceful coexistence, and he blamed imperialism for using police militia to impose sectarian divisions. Then the Ayatollah Khalisi from the Foundation Congress stressed that, whatever sympathy might be felt for hostages and occupying soldiers, the prime concern was the need to free Iraq from occupation. Imperialism was trying to cut Iraq into three, but its efforts kept backfiring, he said. He mentioned the toll of human life when shia pilgrims were panicked into crowding onto a bridge and drowned in large numbers, but then recalled how members of the sunni community from the other side of the bridge at once offered selfless brotherly assistance. The Ayatollah denounced the occupation as the worst act of terrorism and denounced the elections and the constitution as a sham, asserting the right of any people coming under attack to defend itself.

The Iraqi comments about the role of agents provocateurs and mercenaries were borne out by testimony from long-serving British veteran Ben Griffin, who stated that there were actually more British ex-servicemen “working” in that kind of role than there were serving British soldiers. This man, who had served for many years as a tool of imperialism, now saw fit to denounce the British ruling class as a “lapdog of US imperialism”. Bereaved relatives (including Reg Keys from Britain and Cindy Sheehan from the USA) spoke damningly of the barbaric character of the occupation.

The right to resist

Hassan Juma of the Southern Oilworkers Union declared his union’s support for “the honourable resistance against the occupation forces” and its own resistance to attempts by “Halliburton, KBR and Shell to control Iraq’s oil”. He declared: “Our position is strong and we are advancing towards Iraq’s future.” They would fight and if need be die for that future.

Hanna Abrahim from Women’s Will began by holding up a photograph of Condoleezza Rice, declaring that she could not believe that this war criminal feeding on the blood of Iraqi children was really a woman at all. Whilst expressing her own preference to suffer death sooner than inflict it, at the same time said she was “proud that there are heroes of resistance in my country”. After detailing the abuse of Iraqi women at the hands of the occupiers, including women taken hostage, murderous collective reprisals, solitary confinement and sexual harassment, she noted that “such treatment of our women will cause more of our men to join the resistance”. Affirming “our right to defend our country”, she concluded by denouncing the murderous character of “capitalism”.

So electrifying is the example being set by the Iraqi people that some even in the ranks of Trotskyite academia and syndicalist opportunism are feeling the need to raise their game if they are not to be driven into irrelevance.

It is true that the editor of the Socialist Worker opted to confine his remarks to a lament about how the money for the war should be spent on pensions instead (true enough, but offering no lead on how resistance to pension attacks in Britain would be stiffened beyond measure were it consistently allied to full support for the Iraqi resistance to Britain’s murderous occupation). And it is true that the timeserving left-Labour opportunist Jeremy Corbyn confined his remarks to the parsonical (we need to be “united around bringing people together all around the world” – sic), interspersed with laments that “the weapons inspectors were prevented from doing their work” (ie, their aggressive espionage against Iraq’s national defence) and grave tut-tutting over the unfairness of imperialism.

Significantly, though, a cannier Trot survivor like Tariq Ali found it more expedient on this occasion to make a rousing speech in support of the resistance. Social conditions inside Iraq are now much worse than was the case under Ba’ath rule, he admitted. Imperialism had failed to secure the occupation of Iraq, so that (in his view) it had resorted to plan B: the attempt to break Iraq into three pieces (Kurdish north, shia south and sunni centre). This, however, created new problems for the USA, since huge swathes of shia did not in fact support the Sciri leadership favoured by the occupiers. In his view there was “no single resistance organisation” (choosing not to comment on the well-known existence of a coalition of resistance forces), but he denounced attempts to write off Iraqi resistance as ‘terrorism’. Noting that the US was for the moment frustrated in its aggressive designs against Syria and Iran, thanks to the number of troops pinned down by the Iraqi resistance, Tariq Ali concluded his speech by recognising that the “resistance is fighting for us all” and calling on the anti-war movement to defy the so-called ‘anti-terror’ laws which seek to criminalise support for those in resistance against imperialism.

However poisonous the source, this remains excellent advice. Let those who lionise this old anti-Soviet crusader of the ‘Fourth International’ take the advice from him, if they cannot yet stomach it from genuine communists. Yes, let the Stop the War Coalition hearken to this lone sample of Tariq Ali’s ‘wisdom’ and act upon it consistently. Let the steering committee make its central campaigning slogan: Victory to the Iraqi resistance!

The stranglehold of social democracy upon the trade-union movement also appeared to waver for a moment in the course of a speech by Billy Hayes of the Communication Workers Union. There was confusion in trade union circles, he reported, over the question of how to end the occupation of Iraq. Some people were succumbing to the lie by which the decolonisation of India and Aden had once been resisted: if the troops leave, there will be a worse mess. In an admirable part of his contribution, Hayes insisted: “If you don’t support those who are fighting imperialism tooth and claw in the occupied countries, how can you fight it at home?” Hayes also averred that “those who see making trade union links as more important than getting the troops out are fundamentally mistaken”, in appearance throwing down the gauntlet to those false ‘Labour Friends of Iraq’ who wish to convert Iraqi trade unions into a fifth column of the imperialist occupation.

The spoonful of tar which predictably ruined Hayes’ otherwise excellent contribution was, of course, the continued bowing and scraping to social democracy. So the conference was told that “we need to set an early date for withdrawal”, “we need a broad parliamentary opposition”, we need to put “pressure on MPs to end the occupation” etc – in short, it seems that we still need “tooth and claw” reformism!

Improbably enough, it was left to Craig Murray (the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, now turned loose cannon), to point to the glaring absence of the Emperor’s New Clothes. “I will be prepared to listen seriously to the trade unions’ views on the war”, he said, “when they stop funding the most right-wing British government since the [second world] war.”

Peace and justice, not imperialist ‘peace’

The question of how the occupation should end was taken off its head and put back on its feet by a man from the Philippines. Instead of agonising over whether it should be “troops out now”, or a “phased withdrawal”, or “setting a timetable” etc, Herbert Docena from the organisation Focus on Global South set out the real choice to be made: either the US will leave Iraq as they left the Philippines in 1946, with much ceremonial flag-lowering and brass bands but a continuing neo-colonial stranglehold, or the US will leave Iraq as they left Vietnam, in a bolt for the exit, hanging onto the helicopters as they took off from the embassy roof. Docena told the conference: “It is up to us to decide how the US leaves Iraq,” stressing that the US must be forced to abandon any plans for a partial retreat, or the maintenance of armed bases in the region. There must be a complete withdrawal. Further, the demand must be raised for reparations to be paid by the aggressors, to compensate materially for the vast damage to the Iraqi nation caused by sanctions, war and occupation. How should these demands be advanced? By all means march on the streets, and march in bigger numbers. But something else was required, something which Stop the War had not done very well to date. It was necessary to make real solidarity with the struggle of the Iraqi people, and to nail the lie that those who resist are ‘terrorists’.

That same message, “uphold the right to resist”, came from Sabah Jawad of the organisation Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation. He pointed out that the refusal of the British government to grant a visa to Sheikh Hussein al Zagani, the representative of the al Sadrist resistance movement (led by Moqtada al Sadr), and the disgraceful pressure being put upon the Lebanese to expel the Sheikh and his family, showed that they are “scared stiff” of the growing strength of resistance to the war and occupation.

In a powerful speech, Dr Tamimi of the Muslim Association of Britain pointed out that Washington wants “peace” in Iraq, just as Tel Aviv wants “peace” in Palestine -- but only the “peace” that is based upon the capitulation of the victims of aggression; the peace of the grave. What we must demand is peace and justice. In the name of justice, he declared, we must stand up against all the F16s, rockets and bombs, and continue to tell the truth. Holocaust denial was quite correctly deemed unacceptable, insofar as it touched on the fate of the Jews in the second world war. Why then is it acceptable to forget the endless holocausts against the Palestinians and the Iraqis? US imperialism now wants us to forget what has been done to Iraq, but the peace movement will only survive if it insists on telling the truth, and struggles against imperialism and zionism.

After a concluding speech by the star ‘performer’ George Galloway (a speech that was characteristically angry and colourful but in essence said nothing that had not been said better earlier by less showy contributors), the conference was wound up and the delegates sent off into the night.

Despite the patently undemocratic character of conference arrangements, with a conference statement that brooked no amendment or discussion, and delegates who stood a better chance of winning the lottery than having a chance to speak, the reality is that the steering group ended up with a far better conference than they deserved, thanks to the extremely healthy influence of the Iraqi resistance struggle upon many of the contributions. It remains to be seen how far the Stop the War Coalition will be able to absorb the necessary lessons.

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