PANA AGM speech

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by Kate Hudson

The war on Iraq continues to dominate British politics especially after the government has committed 850 extra troops to be deployed as part of a US marine expeditionary unit to take so-called 'decisive action against insurgents in Iraq'. This is despite the fact that opinion polls show that increasing numbers think the war was a mistake and that the occupation should be ended, with around 70% supporting the setting of an early date for withdrawal of British troops. The deployment of additional troops is widely seen as electoral support for Bush, against Kerry's statement that the US is isolating itself over its position on Iraq.

The view that the war on Iraq was wrong is widely and increasingly shared across the world - one of the most recent to take this view is Kofi Anan, Secretary General of the UN who has concluded that the war was illegal. Public disapproval in Britain has been demonstrated not only via mass demonstrations against the war and occupation, but also through the ballot box in recent elections. Anti-war parties - particularly the Liberal Democrats - have performed well against Labour, and there are concerns within the Labour Party about going into an election under Blair.

The Prime Minister continues to attempt to lay the matter to rest. He has acknowledged that he had been wrong on weapons of mass destruction, but crucially he has still refused to apologise for the war, insisting that the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein. Few people, if any, in the UK would prefer to see Saddam Hussein at liberty, rather than in prison, but Mr Blair's problem is that he is avoiding the real issues, which are widely accepted as the following:

  • the war was supposedly entered into over wmd and Iraq's non-compliance with disarmament resolutions and treaties
  • so-called evidence to justify this was hyped up, manufactured, or embroidered - and it is not clear that the prime minister was unaware of the fabrication and deceit. Indeed it is widely believed that he knew and condoned it.
  • there was not support for war from the UN Security Council - it was an illegal war
  • Mr Blair had apparently already agreed that he would support President Bush in a war against Iraq in any case.
  • if the actual motive was regime change this is also illegal under international law.

Mr Blair's failure to respond adequately and honestly to these real issues has led to a massive loss of confidence in his leadership amongst the British population.

Mr Blair also likes to suggest that this is a war of survival by the west, for democracy, against global terrorism, but as was made clear in US security reports, there were no links between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. As was reported in the papers recently, the White House received warnings in January 2003 that a war on Iraq could unleash a violent insurgency and raise anti-US sentiment in the Middle East. This warning came from the US National Intelligence Council which also warned Bush last month that the violence ion Iraq could descend into civil war. President Bush has dismissed these assessments and has asserted that the situation in Iraq is improving, although the US administration is finally being forced to agree that the opposition to occupation has many more fighters and resources than it has previously acknowledged.

The real tragedy of the war, of course is that the situation is getting worse in Iraq. The decisions of the UK government, whether made knowingly on the basis of fabricated evidence, and wilfully breaking international law, or through the most serious possible errors of judgement, have devastated the lives of the Iraqi people, bringing death, suffering and destruction on a terrible scale. Over 17,000 civilians are estimated to have died so far. More are killed on a daily basis as a result of military actions by US and UK forces. The UK government claims that the forces act only against hostile insurgents and terrorists, yet innocent civilians are killed and injured on a daily basis. Ambulances have been shot at in Fallujah, peaceful demonstrators have been fired on in Baghdad. There is also a myth perpetrated by our own government that somehow in British occupied territories everything is sweetness and light. That is clearly not the case. In Basra, British servicemen have been killed. Over a hundred thousand rounds of ammunition have been used by British troops in Basra which does not suggest a peaceful occupation. But we lay no blame on the British troops - they should not be there, and the loss of every service man or woman is to be deeply regretted. Rose Gentle, mother of Gordon Gentle, the 19 year old British soldier killed by a bomb in Basra in June, has spoken out against the war and occupation. She is working with other service families to ensure their voice against the war is heard.

The occupation - which is tainted by the brutality and abuse revealed at the Abu Ghraib prison - is not solving any of the problems of Iraq. It is creating an escalating cycle of violence and must be ended rapidly. Huge areas of Iraq are out of the control of the occupying forces. There is real mass opposition to the occupying forces from the Iraqi people, and Blair's attempts to characterise them all as terrorists is wrong. Terrorists are a terrible feature of the situation in Iraq, but they are a direct result of the war and occupation, a result of our government's policies in cooperation with the Bush administration.

In addition to those killed in the fighting, it is also the case that people are continuing to die as a result of the munitions used by the aggressor forces. Cluster bombs, which spread small bomblets like land-mines, have been widely used, and are a great danger to civilians, particularly children, who pick up the small canisters when at play, then suffer death or severe injury as a result. Many have suffered loss of limbs as a result of cluster bombs.

Depleted uranium munitions have also been used extensively. These are usually shells tipped with depleted uranium to give them extra armour piercing weight. On impact they spread radio-active dust, which on inhalation or ingestion irradiates the person from inside, giving rise to leukaemia and other forms of cancer. Depleted uranium was widely used in Yugoslavia and Iraq during the first Gulf War and there are major cancer clusters and terrible birth deformities as a result. The indiscriminate nature of both these types of munitions - unable to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants - gives strength to the argument that our government leaders are guilty of war crimes and underpins a case that is being taken to the International Criminal Court to that effect.

A huge clean up operation will be essential, but it is likely that the effects cannot be eradicated. This is a deadly legacy for the Iraqis for generations to come.

There have been other major social and economic effects for the Iraqis too - 60% unemployment, massive destruction of the infrastructure, people barely surviving through scavenging, great personal risk and insecurity, particularly for women, collapse of education affecting children of all ages. Truly it is a devastated society. We take a strong view that companies from aggressor nations should not profit from the rebuilding process. The occupation is tainted by asset-stripping and profiteering by the occupiers.

The consequences of the UK government's policy are a catastrophe for Iraq, but we believe that it is also necessary to consider the wider policy implications, for a number of changes have become apparent during the war and occupation, and they are changes which are fundamentally at odds with the values of the majority of people across the world, which are the values of peace and social justice. Furthermore they are policy positions which are taken by the UK government in conjunction with the US administration and which isolate Britain from the rest of the international community. There is a danger that Blair takes an ideological position vis-a-vis the US and will support US wars in any context. Indeed there is even a concern that Blair has adopted the US neo-con framework.

Firstly the policy of pre-emptive war. Under international law, except under the most exceptional circumstances, war is only legal if it is defensive. To wage aggressive war is illegal. This is what was done to Iraq. Earlier this year in a speech in his Sedgefield constituency, Mr Blair suggested that international law should be changed, to make wars of intervention legal. Given the current balance of forces in the world, this would be a recipe for the US and UK, or potentially any other country, come to that, intervening militarily in any country where they objected to the regime, or had economic or resource interests, under the guise of 'humanitarian' or other forms of intervention. This is not a policy that should be accepted or supported by the peace movement.

Secondly, the question of the use of nuclear weapons. For decades, there has been a basic agreement that nuclear weapons should not be used, as their impact is so disastrous. In particular that they should not be used against non-nuclear weapons states. In the run up to the war on Iraq, UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon stated that the government would consider using nuclear weapons even against non-nuclear weapons states. This is a very dangerous direction and is linked closely to the US policy outlined in their US Nuclear Posture Review two years ago - that nuclear weapons should be part of a whole useable arsenal. This is part of the US military's strategic vision for US military 'full spectrum dominance' on land, sea, air and space.

This links to my third point, which is the UK government's likely development of new nuclear weapons. Even though we supposedly went to war on Iraq to prevent proliferation of wmd, our government is currently itself planning to proliferate. Developments are taking place at the atomic bomb factory in Aldermaston in Berkshire to research and develop new useable nuclear weapons. The government may also decide to produce a replacement for the Trident nuclear weapons system, in spite of the fact that we are committed under international treaty to abolish our nuclear weapons. The hypocrisy of our government on these issues is extreme. And beyond that, what use are nuclear weapons against a terrorist threat? They do not deter terrorists in the US or Russia and the very possession of nuclear weapons offers a target to terrorists and offers the potential of terrorists getting hold of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are not appropriate to meet the security challenges of the 21 st century.

These views are very widely shared. At the recent European Social Forum in London, with an attendance of over 20,000, many participated in debates and discussions on the questions of peace and disarmament. We were able to hear Mordechai Vanunu in a live telephone link up. Much of the discussion centred on strategies for achieving our aims. We generally shared the view that the most immediate threat to world peace is the US drive for global domination, which takes the form of neo-liberal globalisation and war. This is currently dressed up as the Project for the New American Century, which is based on the notion that the US has the moral obligation to dominate the world for its own good. In reality it is global impoverishment and the drive to war which has already seen in recent years the wars on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. We know the US has its sights on other countries that don't comply with its political and economic goals. We must be vigilant to prevent further wars and to prevent increased militarisation as a response to that, via EU or any other way, which will only compound an escalating cycle of violence.

There was also broad agreement on how we can move forward on our shared aims:

  • against pre-emptive war
  • against the increasing militarisation of the EU
  • for global abolition of nuclear weapons and compliance with NPT obligations
  • to strengthen international anti-base campaigning
  • for a world of peace and social justice

We also shared views on how to work together:

  • greater international cooperation and links between movements
  • streamline activities at bases and at NPT for global abolition of nukes
  • cooperation against the militarised constitution
  • sharing of information via websites
  • support for cross national lobbying initiatives
  • development of inclusive movements which welcome all, irrespective of faith, political affiliation or any other factor.

The watchwords for the movement for peace and disarmament must be unity, diversity and international cooperation. Working together we will win a world of peace and justice, free from the fear of nuclear annihilation.

by Kate Hudson,Peace & Neutrality Alliance.

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