More on Iraq

Ozleft ozleft at
Wed Sep 10 18:26:23 MDT 2003

By Ed Lewis

Below is a discussion item being circulated in the Victorian Peace Network,
drafted by David Spratt.

It's pretty well argued and documented, and except for some of the tactical
conclusions at the end about current possibilities for action, and perhaps a
couple of other paragraphs, I can't see much wrong with it.

I wonder how much Jose Perez and Lou Paulsen on one side of this thread and
Bob Gould on the other would agree/disagree with it, and if both sides
largely agree, as I suspect they may, isn't the argument largely about
attempts, mainly on Bob's part, to read too much into scanty information,
and on Jose's part to proceed to an extreme characterisation of Bob's views
on the basis of a few incautious words in a rather extensive analysis?

Apart from the argument in this thread, no doubt Lou Paulsen and ANSWER are
wrestling with similar questions to those Spratt takes up.

One paragraph that I would take issue with is the following, and this is not
necessarily disagreeing with Dave Spratt, as he is merely reporting a widely
held opinion.

>>In talking with people generally who support the peace movement about this
issue, there is a very strong view that we can't simply say "end the
occupation", and if Iraq falls into a bout of sectarian blood-letting that
is OK because at least we have "dealt a blow to imperialism".>>

This is a discussion that always arises in anti-imperialist struggles. In
Ireland, for example, it was a common argument against simply calling for
withdrawal of British troops. In Vietnam, liberals often argued that if the
troops went home the communists would take over.

My view is that the Iraqis are the only ones who can sort out the future of
their country. Imperialism is the problem and the troops perpetuate the
problem, and their withdrawal is an essential precondition for the Iraqis
taking control of their own affairs. Civil war is made more likely by the
fact that imperialist forces inevitably seek to recruit supporters and
create supporting military forces in the local population, as they did in
Vietnam, and in a different way in Ireland.

Of course it's not okay if Iraq falls into a "bout of sectarian
bloodletting", but such a development is made more likely by the presence of
the imperialist troops, whether of the US or UN variety.

I also wonder how far it's possible to move in the direction of going beyond
"simply raising the demand 'End the occupation' and argue a cogent, credible
case to the broader public ... to explore whether there is further common
ground on which to base a campaign to bring about concrete steps towards a
democratic, independent and stable Iraq as quickly as practicable ­-- a
campaign which could gather significant support from diverse people and
sectors in the Australian community".

The main focus must be on withdrawal of the troops, and attempts to broaden
the platform of single-issue movements often work against united action and
unleash centrifugal forces in coalitions. As forces in Iraq begin raising
specific demands for democracy and political stability, the movement should
support them, but attempts to develop such a program in Melbourne or
elsewhere are probably going to be abstract, divisive and not useful. This
is not to suggest that's what Dave Spratt is proposing, because he's rather
cautiously canvassing ideas based on obviously widespread discussion.


The Victorian Peace Network (VPN) and the Occupation of Iraq

07 September 2003

By David Spratt

"The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things are far
worse than we have been told... We are today not far short of a disaster."

-- Lawrence of Arabia describing the crumbling British occupation of Iraq,
under guerrilla attack in 1920 (quoted by Robert Fisk).


This document has been drafted as a contribution to discussion within the
Victorian Peace Network on how we should proceed to deal with the aftermath
of the war in Iraq and the ongoing occupation. All comments welcome.

A. Current VPN policy

The VPN's general principles were adopted in 2002, and include:

* "Support for the removal of foreign military bases from [the Middle East]
and an end to foreign military interventions in these regions, including the
withdrawal of Australian, American and other foreign military forces";

* "The [Middle East] conflicts should be solved in a just and peaceful
manner, with the participation and support of all nations and peoples in the
region, having regard for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
international law and the rights of all peoples to self-determination".

>From these principles the VPN has called for an end to the military
occupation of Iraq and the movement towards a democratic act of
self-determination (and the establishment of a new constitution) as the
highest priority. However, we need to go beyond simply raising the demand
"End the occupation" and must argue a cogent, credible case to the broader
public. Amongst VPN affiliates, we need to explore whether there is further
common ground on which to base a campaign to bring about concrete steps
towards a democratic, independent and stable Iraq as quickly as
practicable ­ a campaign which could gather significant support from diverse
people and sectors in the Australian community.

B. The current situation in Iraq

I hope there would be broad agreement within VPN on the following

* The occupation and the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has
been a calamity; the British government fears "a strategic failure" and
former US Secretary of the Army, Thomas White sees a "potential
humanitarian, political and economic disaster" (more on White at Sixteen of
Americas's 33 combat brigades are now in Iraq, and they are failing. In
desperation, the Provisional Authority is hiring thousand of members of the
former Baathist police, army and intelligence services (up to the rank of
Lieutenant-Colonel) on what would seem to be the naive assumption that this
layer will be loyal servants to the foreign military occupation of their

* The occupation is also a calamity for the neo-conservative ideology of the
Bush Administration, and its project for "The New American Century"; leading
neo-con ideologues William Kristol and Robert Kagan editorialised in "The
Weekly Standard" on September 1: "The future course of American foreign
policy, American world leadership and American security is at stake. Failure
in Iraq would be devastating blow to everything the United States hopes to
accomplish and must accomplish in the decades ahead." [Their response is to
call for more troops, more money and more personnel!]

* Whilst the fall of the Baathist government has reduced much political
repression, in some other ways people are less secure than before the war: ­
crime is rampant and women face increased harrassment and insecurity ­ civil
order has not been restored and is deteriorating, with increasing acts of
sabotage and bombings; ­ war continues on the ground with civilian deaths
and casualties many times those of the occupation forces ("Up to 20 innocent
Iraqi civilians a day are now believed to be dying--in murders, revenge
killings, at US checkpoints--and yet they no longer count." Robert Fisk, "We
Were Warned About This Chaos", Independent, September 5, 2003.) ­ the
economy is in shambles and basic economic and health conditions are worse
than before 20 March 2003 (see for example "Deteriorating living conditions
in Baghdad"; ­ oil
exports are well below those planned. Iraq, with the world's second-highest
reserves of oil, is now importing fuel; ­ there is a limited inflow of
non-Iraqis motivated by the opportunity to fight the foreign forces; ­ all
key decisions are made by, or subject to veto by, the CPA; ­ the interim
government, dominated by recently-returned exiles and lacking representation
from key sectors, lacks credibility
(; the Iraqi Governing Council
(IGC) oil minister is holed up in Kuwait, unwilling to return to Iraq! ­ the
country is moving towards sectarian strife between and within the Kurdish,
Shi'ite and Sunni communities, and whatever hope and trust existed for a
"benign" occupation, leading quickly to a new democratic Iraqi state, has
all but disappeared.

* It is well-documented that the US/UK planned an open-ended military
occupation which centrally includes the systematic privatisation of the Iraq
economy to the benefit of global corporations. It is a basic denial of human
rights and contrary to the Geneva Conventions for an occupying power to
fundamentally transform the nature of the economy under occupation,
effectively denying the people the democratic right to determine issues with
such large impacts on their future. [For an insight into contracts and
reconstruction, see].

* The people of Iraq in general want the military occupation to end, and
even members of the interim government are now calling for quick withdrawal
of US forces. Some members of the IGC are effectively withdrawing and
establishing their own militias and processes for political consultation
outside the IGC (see, for example, "Iraqis threaten to go it alone", by
Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, 5 September 2003

* It is hard to escape the conclusion that a prolonged western military
occupation will only deepen the problems and that more troops and more money
will mean more disaster.

C. Observations

Some US ideologues argue that the occupation is based on the realpolitik of
power ("to the victors go the spoils" and "might is right"). But these
arguments carry no weight in international law, and have damaged US standing
in the United Nations and other international institutions.

Therefore, the current military occupation is premised, covertly or
implicitly, on the following arguments:

i) Civil order needs to be "restored" (ignoring the issue of who destroyed
it) and a western-dominated occupation force is the best (and only?) option;

ii) There is a need for a large capital inflow to "rebuild" the country, and
that is best achieved by a US/UN "civilian" authority. Implicitly, the Iraqi
people lack the skill or ability to organise the reconstruction of their own

iii) An act of Iraqi self-determination and a new constitution and
government will take years, rather than months, to achieve. There must be
doubt whether free elections are on the agenda at all. [For example,
Neo-conservative academic Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum think-tank
argues that "democratic-minded autocrats can guide [Iraq] to full democracy
better than snap elections". What Iraq needs, he says, is "a democratically
minded [sic] strongman who has real authority", who would be "politically
moderate" but "operationally tough" (sic again). Robert Fisk comments: "Of
course, it's difficult to resist a cynical smile at such double standards,
although their meaning is frightening enough. What does 'operationally
tough' mean, other than secret policemen, interrogation rooms and torturers
to keep the people in order - which is exactly what Saddam set up when he
took power, supported as he was at the time by the US and Britain? What does
'strongman' mean other than a total reversal of the promise of 'democracy'
which Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair made to the Iraqi people?"
See full text at]

D. Our responses

How can we address issues i) ­ iii) above, when we address the general
public in Australia and seek to change our government¹s policy?

In talking with people generally who support the peace movement about this
issue, there is a very strong view that we can't simply say "end the
occupation", and if Iraq falls into a bout of sectarian blood-letting that
is OK because at least we have "dealt a blow to imperialism".

The VPN as a network has advocated the establishment of an independent Iraq
"having regard for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international
law and the rights of all peoples to self-determination", and in addressing
the situation of post-war Iraq we should also concretely posit some way/s

1. I think there would be general agreement within VPN that the continuation
of the US-dominated military occupation and civil administration, even if
wrapped in a UN flag, cannot be supported as the way forward. Obviously a
civilian authority FULLY under the control of the UN and a military force
under the command of someone not answerable to Donald Rumsfeld, plus a
CONCRETE timetable for transition to Iraqi control of the economy would be a
step forward, but that is far from what is being proposed. For a discussion
on the current proposals regarding the UN, see: ­ "A Return to the UN?" By
Phyllis Bennis ( See her
proposal in Appendix 1 Below. ­ "Full command or no involvement" by Amin
Saikal, SMH, 5 September 2003.
(  "Beware the
bluewash" by George Monbiot, 26 August 2003, The Guardian

2. The way forward may be to clearly delineate the three functions of: *
establishing civil order * establishing new political structures *
rebuilding economic structures and argue strongly that these three tasks
need to be carried by identifiably SEPARATE institutions and processes. When
a highly unpopular, repressive military occupation is also responsible for
economic and political rebuilding, it makes the latter tasks almost
impossible, as we have seen. While some outside support may be necessary in
the short term in establishing civil order, there is no reason why the
rebuilding of economic and political structures should not primarily be the
province of the Iraqi people themselves; anything else is effectively
patronising neo-imperialism and a negation of the notion of

3. We need also to challenge the prevailing argument that the FIRST priority
must be to establish civil order so that an Iraqi government can emerge
sometime in the hazy future. Instead we should reverse the agrument and
advocate strongly that:

* the failure to clearly move towards Iraqi control of Iraqi affairs and an
act of self-determination only increases opposition to the occupation and
civil disorder;

* ONLY by making the move towards Iraqi control of Iraqi affairs and an act
of self-determination the urgent priority can there be a POLITICAL basis for
addressing the root causes of civil disorder. Along these lines is the
Constititional Convention proposal in the article "Building Iraqi democracy"
( In addition, support must be
given to the development of democratic, independent, community-based
organisations, be they human rights advocacy organisations, labour
organisations, sectoral organisations or local/regional bodies.

4. Despite the rise of political Islam in the Middle East over the last two
decades, it is a fatal mistake to underestimate, the strong nationalist
sentiment throughout the Arab world, as the US has done in Iraq. To argue
that Iraqis will welcome an extended, white, western military occupation is
simply an expression of sustained ignorance about the Arab world, and Iraq
in particular. Any foreign military force necessary to rebuild civil order
is most likely to succeed when:

* it is not identified as white, western and abrasive BUT drawn principally
from the region and Arab in character, working actively with local sectors
to establish a transition to local control of security issues;

* it is of limited duration, rather than open-ended;

* it is detached, and is seen as detached, from the roles of rebuilding
political and economic structures.

5. Britain and the UK are now deeply worried about the cost of
reconstruction, and their half-turn towards the United Nations is
pragmatically motivated by the "high costs" of the occupation and
reconstruction. They planned (perhaps hoped is a more appropriate verb) that
Iraqi oil revenues would pay for reconstruction, with a nice windfall to
their mates¹ corporations. But that is not possible in the short-run, given
the difficulties in reestablishing oil exports. Hence the new concern for
who pays for reconstruction. But this misses the point. Those countries who
illegally and without due cause attacked and destroyed Iraqi industry and
infrastructure should be liable for WAR REPARATIONS. That should be our
call, not performances by western governments about how generous WE are
going to be to THEM! Given the failure of the West to deliver half the
rather moderate amount of aid it promised to Afghanistan, is it too cynical
to suggest that the talk about delivering billions of aid to Iraq is in some
ways little more than a reason to justify open-ended occupation and
intervention? I would bet that the Iraqis would willingly forgo such aid in
exchange for a quick end to the occupation and guaranteed loans to fund
reconstruction. Iraq does have the human and labour skills and knowledge to
rebuild the economy, as even UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has clearly
articulated. Western administered "rebuilding" is unnecessary and an
obstacle to peace; not a necessary solution. With political confidence and
civil order, the people of Iraq are more than capable, and endowed with the
resources, to rebuild their own economy.

E. Thus in summary, could the VPN advocate:

i) that top priority be given to a constitutional convention and concrete
moves towards a new democratic government with a visible time-line, as the
only means of providing a political (as opposed to simply military/
repressive) means of building support for institutions of civil order; in
conjunction with the development of democratic, independent, community-based

ii) that civil order be rebuilt in cooperation with all sectors of Iraqi
society by forces drawn principally from the region, and Arab in character;

iii) that primary responsibility for economic reconstruction be entrusted to
the people of Iraq; and that all privatisation of the Iraqi economy be
stopped pending the establishment of a new democratic Iraqi government.

There is a need for VPN affiliates to discuss these perspectives, so that
the network can have a united response to the challenges of the coming
months (e.g. if the Howard government decides to re-send Australian combat
troops to Iraq as part of some kind of United Nations force).

F. How can the VPN campaign?

In April this year, VPN agreed that the aftermath of the war on the people
of Iraq should remain one of our ongoing priorities. But it is now important
to reassess the level of support and engagement of VPN affiliates after the
end of the first phase of conflict in Iraq and the mass rallies of February
and March 2003.

Of course each VPN affiliate can take up whatever action or policy it
determines. But VPN has successfully operated as a network by developing
activities that have the broadest agreement amongst its affiliates. To avoid
the conflicts that have split the movement in Sydney and caused tensions in
other interstate coalitions, it is important that we continue to operate on
the principle of supporting campaigns that unite the bulk of affiliated

It is a truism to say that a demonstration is not a substitute for a serious
campaign, well-planned to develop over a period of time. In constructing an
ongoing campaign on Iraq, we need to recognise that the political situation
in Australia is quite different from the USA and UK - Australia does not
have combat troops in action, facing casualties like the US and UK forces -
public voices advocating a quick end to the occupation have been notable
largely by their absence in Australia. The broad forces who public opposed
the war ­ Greens, Democrats, the political and industrial labour left,
churches, former PMs and military chiefs, etc. ­ may have been vocal on the
WMDs/"we were deceived" issue, but are almost completely silent when it
comes to calls for, or discussion about, ending the occupation. - the
occupation is unlikely to end in a month or three. We are looking at an
extended campaign and should plan accordingly.

For VPN as a network, a large public rally on "ending the occupation" should
only be the consequence of a program of organising and not a starting point.
The hard fact is that many people (and many affiliates) say they are "sick
of rallies" and we need to systematically build support again.

If the VPN is to help develop a campaign to end the occupation and establish
an independent, democratic Iraq, it needs to take long-term concrete steps
which could include:

a) Firstly, an active discussion within the VPN and affiliates on Iraq and
how to develop the campaign (including providing speakers to affiliates and
local groups and a VPN forum on the issues). We need to clarify: How many
affiliates have policy on ongoing developments in Iraq? What are the
policies of key partner agencies of affiliated churches, unions, political
organisations? How many affiliates are willing to commit staff time and
resources to such a campaign? how many people have taken the issue of the
occupation to their union branch or workplace, for example? What happened to
Workers against the War? Should it be active again?

b) We need research that may help us prosecute the campaign. For example: ­
Australia is still an occupying power. What are its obligations under the
Geneva Conventions? War reparations? Are there legal avenues for advocacy of
these issues? ­ What are the implications of Security Council resolution
1483, which ended sanctions against Iraq and established the Development
Fund for Iraq into which the $1.7 billion of Iraqi money from the UN
Oil-for-Food program and all proceeds from future sales of Iraqi oil and gas
will be placed and which is controlled by Paul Bremmer? ­ What are the
implications of George Bush's executive order 13303, which gives sweeping
powers to US oil companies operating in Iraq while granting immunity to them
for the consequences of any of their actions in exploiting the oil? ­ What
is the exact role of Australian forces in Iraq (270-strong naval component,
300 air crew to run C-130 Hercules and P-3C Orion operations, 80 air traffic
controllers, a 70-strong security detachment plus logistics, communications
and various other officers)? ­ Highlighting the Howard government's WMD
argument for war (described by Robert Manne as the "greatest foreign policy
scandal"). For a chronicle of Howard¹s pre-war arguments, see for example

c) Highlighting independent reports of the situation in Iraq, for example by
Amnesty International, etc.

d) Production of information (leaflets, facts sheets, briefing notes etc)
for the campaign, and the production of opinion articles for the daily
press, etc. The website continues to be updated with articles relevant to
the campaign.

e) Encouraging public figures (community, church, labour movement, political
parties, aid organisations) to vigorously take up the issue. The signing of
a public statement / letter for the media? This could lead to a public
meeting on the issue.

f) Targetting selected MPs and Senators, to encourage them to make public
statements on the issue.

g) Urging support the building of democratic, indepedent community based
organisations in Iraq; for example through the VTHC and unions for the Iraqi
labour movement. The development of an independent Iraqi labour movement is
already being attacked by the occupation authorities. For example, "On July
29, US occupation forces in Iraq arrested a leader of Iraq's new emerging
labor movement, Kacem Madi, along with 20 other members of the Union of the
Unemployed. The unionists had been conducting a sit-in to protest the
treatment of unemployed Iraqi workers by the US occupation authority, and
the fact that contracts for work rebuilding the country have been given
overwhelmingly to US corporations."

Appendix 1.

A Return to the UN? By Phyllis Bennis, Foreign Policy In Focus, 4 September
4, 2003 (Extract)

1. Any new UN resolution aimed at providing more legitimacy for the U.S.-UK
occupation of Iraq should be opposed. Countries should not send troops or
funds to maintain or strengthen or "internationalize" Washington's

2. Oppose Richard Perle's claim that "our main mistake is that we haven't
succeeded in working closely with Iraqis before the war so that an Iraqi
opposition could have been able to immediately take the matter in hand."
Instead, the over-reliance of the Bush administration on the claims of the
exiled Iraqi opposition, driven by self-interest and ideological fervor
rather than grounded information, is one of the main reasons for the U.S.
failure to anticipate the post-war crisis in Iraq.

3. Only after the U.S.-UK occupation has ended should the United Nations and
a multilateral peacekeeping force return to Iraq. Their mandate should be
for a very short and defined period, with the goal of assisting Iraq in
reconstruction and overseeing election of a governing authority.

4. As belligerent powers who initiated the war, and as occupying powers, the
U.S. and the UK are required to provide for the humanitarian needs of the
Iraqi people. While their military occupation should be ended immediately,
Washington and London remain obligated to pay the continuing costs of Iraq's
reconstruction, including the bulk of the cost of UN humanitarian and
peacekeeping deployments. The U.S. should immediately make public a
realistic estimate for the cost of reconstruction in Iraq. Washington should
turn over funds to UN authority, beginning with a direct grant of at least
$75 billion (the initial amount spent on waging the war) for reconstruction
work. These funds should be raised from an excess profits tax on
corporations benefiting from the war and post-war privatization in Iraq, as
well as from Pentagon budget lines initially aimed at carrying out war in

5. The U.S. should use this moment to reverse its longstanding opposition to
the creation of a standing UN rapid-reaction military force, beginning with
reconstituting the UN Charter-mandated Military Staff Committee.

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