Andrew Murray the Chair of the Stop the War Coalition opened the conference describing it as an “historic event” that brings together peace activists from around the world. Indeed, I was part of a sizable delegation of activists from throughout the United States. And the conference also included delegates from across Britain, Iraq, Iran, as well as from Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Canada, Poland, Greece, Italy, Spain and many other European countries. And as the day wore on it became evident that the potential historic nature of the conference was not exaggerated by Murray.
No doubt, the international peace movement deepened, broadened and increased its solidarity at a conference in London held on December 10. Approximately, 1,500 people packed the Royal Horticultural Society Hall in an event that remained full throughout the day until 8 PM at night. The conference was organized by the “Stop the War Coalition.”
The conference passed two resolutions: One calling for the release of the Christian Peace Workers who are being held hostage; and the other laying out plans for the future–including a major international demonstration on March 18-19–the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
Attendees came to hear the Iraqi delegates–although the British government refused to allow entry to the al Sadr representative, Hassan al Zargani. In a statement he said:
“The British and American governments send armies to occupy Iraq but are frightened of one person speaking at a peace conference in London. So much for the democracy which they claim to install in Iraq. They were not satisfied with banning me from Britain, but have now succeeded in expelling me and my family from Lebanon in this inhumane and vindictive way.”
Among the Iraqi delegates present were Sheikh al Khallisi from the Iraqi Foundation Congress, Hanna Ibrahim from the Women’s Will organization, and Hassan Jumaa from the Iraqi Oil Workers’ Union. The conference heard from Anas al Tikriti by telephone, who has been in Iraq trying to obtain the release of kidnapped peace activists. Among the prominent US delegates were Cindy Sheehan of Gold Star Families for Peace, Judith le Blanc from United for Peace and Justice, Medea Benjamin from Code Pink and Justice and Phyllis Bennis of Institute for Policy Studies.
The Current Situation
Tony Benn, the President of the Stop the War Coalition, who began his service in Parliament in 1950 and retired in 2001 in order to “devote more time to politics,” opened the session on the current situation in Iraq, Britain and the U.S. by making the point that the peace movement was “the most powerful political movement of my lifetime as it represents the majority of the people.” He expressed concern about the “religious justification for war because it means there will be no peace since God is claimed on both sides.” He described the anti-war movement as not a “protest” movement but one that is “demanding that troops be brought home, that there be no attack on Syria or Iran, supporting the Palestinian peoples right of return, removal of nuclear weapons and a demand for our civil liberties–the basis of democracy.” He concluded with the important point that “we need to use the resources of the world for the benefit of the people of the world. We have the power to destroy ourselves but also the resources to resolve the basic problems facing the human race.”
Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies described the current situation as “dual occupations posing in the name of democracy,” referring to the occupation of Iraq and the Palestinian territories. Bennis described the tremendous shift in U.S. public opinion with only 30 percent currently supporting President Bush on Iraq, three-quarters not believing he told the truth regarding weapons of mass destruction and 60% wanting the U.S. to bring our troops home. She noted that with these figures it is evident “we don’t have a democracy that is responsive to the people.” She concluded saying that a “partial withdrawal is not enough–we must demand an end to the occupation, end to torture, and demand peace.”
Professor Sami Ramadani of the London Metropolitan University who was a political refugee from Saddam’s regime emphasized the “Big Lie” phenomena and how it applied to Iraq. He said the public now “overwhelmingly recognizes that the Iraq War was based on a ‘big lie.'” He went on to point out that “the continuation of the occupation is based on another big lie–that the Iraqi people are so hopelessly divided, they hate each other so much, that they are prepared to kill each other once the occupation forces leave.” He pointed out that the occupation forces have tried to divide Iraqis through promoting death squads quoting Lt. General William Boykin describing the Phoenix Program of Vietnam which were death squads and General William Downing, the head of U.S. special operation forces who said that death squads started operating immediately after the March 2003 invasion. He warned that people need to be careful not to be fooled by bits of news every day about Iraqi divisions because this is how big lies are developed and it is the lie that keeps U.S. and British forces in Iraq.
Mazin Younis of the Iraqi League described his investigations into human rights abuses in Iraq. He described multiple visits to Basra and was shocked to learn of the abuses that were occurring at the hands of British troops. He put a human face to the tragedy by describing a young Iraqi girl, Aysha Saleem, who was injured by shrapnel after a bomb destroyed her home killing 8 members of her family. He described how she survived because her grandmother who slept with her every night “shielded her from the explosion. An eyewitness account says how the grandmother was torn apart but Aysha was protected. The other members of Aysha’s family killed were her three year old brother, Omar, her father, her mother, Atika, who was 24 and six months pregnant-the baby was born and was alive for a couple of hours after the attack.”
Ayatollah Jawad al-Khalisi President of the Iraq National Foundation Conference said he came to “help heal the wounds the war has opened.” He described how the current hostage taking of Christian Peace Workers is a blow against “our efforts for peace.” And, how they were doing their “best to have them released unharmed.” He urged more demonstrations by the anti-war movement as they have a big, positive impact in Iraq.” He understood how the soldiers came from the poorer classes in Iraq, how they welcome their families speaking out and who “we have sympathy for all these people.” The Ayatollah, who had been imprisoned and tortured under Saddam’s regime, pointed out how the occupation forces are “imprisoning people where Saddam’s secret police imprisoned people and are doing the same things that Saddam did.” Today, people in Iraq are afraid to go out as they do not know what will happen to them. When he is asked about Iraq elections he describes them and the constitution as “a ‘big lie’ sold by the Western media–fake elections and a fake constitution.” Echoing Sami Ramadani he said Iraqis can live together “these differences have existed for a long time but we have lived together for long time. The occupation has escalated problems, increased divisions in an attempt to divide the Iraqi people and redraw the map of the Middle East in favor of their interests.” He said “the war is illegitimate and illegal–no subsequent UN resolutions change that. And, the resistance is legitimate.” He was careful to point out that terrorism is not legitimate and rejected. He concluded: “Occupation is the worst act of terrorism as it strips people of their dignity. Human rights have no value under occupation as soldiers and mercenaries can kill anyone at any time.”
My comment was that whenever President Bush speaks about Iraq Americans must determine whether to believe him. Two big important areas of false statements that need to be responded to include the under counting of U.S. casualties. President Bush likes to say he supports the troops, speak in front of military and veteran audiences it is important for these people in particular to know he intentionally undercounts their injuries. Secondly, people in the United States and Great Britain must not believe the claim that the U.K. and U.S. will be able to stabilize Iraq. With the history of an illegal invasion, the killing of civilians, the torture of prisoners and the use of chemical weapns in Fallujah, we cannot win the hearts and minds of Iraqis.
Military Family and Iraq Veterans
A panel on military families and Iraq war veterans featured many prominent peace advocates from those communities. The British peace mother, Rose Gentle, described the death of her son, Gordon, as “a murder by my government.” She says her “sons life is worth more than oil.” Another British mother, Ann Lawrence said her son Mark had a duty to serve his country but “their country and government had a duty to them and it brings us no comfort that Mark died for a lie in an illegal war.” John Stockton’s son Simon told him before going to Iraq “Dad, there is a madman over there and he can deploy weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes.” But, Mr. Stockton said: “The madman turned out to be the man in charge of our country.” Reg Keys, whose son Tom died in Iraq, ran against Tony Blair in the last election said: “This country spends 700 hours debating the killing of foxes and seven hours debating the killing of people–we have our priorities wrong.” He has come to conclude his son did die for a noble cause — “we will not tolerate wars based on false pretenses.”
Among the soldiers that spoke were Ben Griffin who served 8 years in the Army but became a conscientious objector after seeing what was really happening in Iraq. He described is as “like a gold rush, indigenous people having our way of life forced on them brutally while multinational corporations plunder their resources.” He was particularly critical of “production sharing agreements that pass Iraqi oil onto multinational oil companies.” He said “Blair promised an ethical foreign policy and now we’ve become the lap dog of American imperialism.” He said “I volunteered for the Army and went to Iraq of my own free will but I did not volunteer to be lied to, to fight an illegal war and protect the interests of multinational corporations.”
Related to this were comments by Chris Nineham of the Stop the War Coalition who described how British and U.S. troops are losing faith, how they have low morale and their primary goal is to get out of Iraq alive and in one peace. He discussed the history of the Vietnam War and how when soldiers in Vietnam turned against their officers the war was impossible to continue. He pointed to several U.S. and British military reports that hinted that this is beginning to occur in Iraq.
Kelly Dougherty of the U.S. group Iraq Veterans Against the War served in the Army National Guard for eight years in the Balkans and one year in Iraq. She helped from Iraq Vets Against the War because she believes the voices of Veterans need to be heard. She described how when she was in Iraq she spent a lot of her time protecting Halliburton convoys, including protecting broken down Halliburton vehicles–waiting for them to return to get them and then when they didn’t return burning them. She described how soldiers wanted to help Iraqis but “we could not help but see how our bombs hurt.” She described how military convoys are ordered to never stop and how this results in Iraqi civilians being killed by convoys driving over them. She says her friends coming back from Iraq are missing limbs, can’t sleep, abuse alcohol and drugs, commit suicide because they cannot reconcile what they did in Iraq. She concluded: “Occupation does not make us safer. Our humanity is on the line. Freedom in Iraq cannot really start until the U.S. forces leave.”
The panel concluded with Cindy Sheehan who said “ending the Iraq war is so important, so urgent. There is no more important job than peace and bringing the war criminals at Ten Downing Street and the White House to justice.” She described how the media often asks “stupid questions” like “Your son volunteered?” Her response “Are you saying he got what he deserved?” Or, “Do you want Iraq to descend into chaos?” She responds “What is your definition of chaos? Look at Iraq today.” And, “Do you think you’re being used?” Her response, “Do you think you are being used!?” She urges people to get active, take action and not to stand for the abuses of government saying “They will only take away our freedoms if we let them do it.”
Bringing Bush and Blair to Account
Tariq Ali, a noted novelist, historian and campaigner of the new left, spoke on a panel concerning bringing Bush and Blair to account. He said that “while there are difficult times ahead, this occupation cannot last. The Iraqi people will determine their own future, not Bush or Blair. All this talk of invading Syria or Iran is bravado–the do not have the troops.”
Hassan Juma, President of the Southern Iraqi Oil Workers’ Union, described how union workers have continued to fight for their rates despite abuse and incarceration; how they see the war is about the United States and Great Britain taking Iraq’s oil saying “the U.S. has evil intentions and is willing to kill for its own benefit.” Juma described Iraq oil as “a national treasure for Iraqis.” He said “We will die for our objectives” and listed as their first objective “all occupation forces leave immediately and unconditionally leaving Iraqi people to decide their own fate, their own future.”
Hanna Abrahim of the Iraq organization Free Will described how occupation forces kidnap women as hostages, “not as terrorists, but to threaten their men, to let them know their women can be taken and held.” She says “one woman who was released, said the first question the asked her was ‘are you a virgin?’ but the occupying do not realize this will cause more men to resist. It will bring more terrorism.” She says “America is bringing terrorism to Iraq.” She describes as “absurd” the notion that “we need war in order to have peace.” She concludes that Bush and Blair are “bringing shame to their own countries.”
Ann Wright a former U.S. military and State Department official described how “two and a half years ago I would have been the least likely person to be here having served 29 years in the U.S. military and 15 years in the State Department.” But, she resigned in March 2003 when the Iraq War began and now says “We need to indict and bring criminal charges against the leadership of the United States and Great Britain.” She also pointed out how the U.S. is having such difficulty recruiting that they send recruiters to other countries like Mexico, noting that “100 Mexicans have died in Iraq and on some of the Pacific Islands most of the men are gone because they have been recruited by the U.S. Army.” She described one of her proudest moments as when she recently went to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was testifying and stood up and shouted “Stop the war, stop the killing!” And, she was also arrested over Thanksgiving in Crawford for challenging a new ordinance the prohibited camping alongside the road. She urged others do take similar action, urging Britons to challenge the new ordinance preventing demonstrations near Parliament.
British Green Party representative, Paul Ingram described how “this is personal. Bush and Blair need to be held accountable.” Further, he said “the new Iraqi government will have on its desks ‘production service agreements’ which will hand over Iraqi oil to U.S. companies. And, military forces will stay to enforce these agreements.”
David Swanson of After Downing Street urged the impeachment of President Bush. He pointed out how the corporate media ignored the Downing Street Memos until our coalition forced them to cover it by getting it covered on the web. The furor grew so widely that USA Today even published excuses as to why they were so late in reporting on the memos. He said “What we are doing is getting the Romans to oppose the empire when many do not even realize they are part of an empire and others think the empire is good.” But, today a majority of Americans support impeachment if Bush lied to send us to war. He concluded “we need an international alliance to impeach Bush and Blair.”
John Rees of the Stop the War Coalition emphasized how “if we heard of a military convoy overrunning civilians in colonial India we would not believe it–but it is happening today.” He said “with the participation of the large anti-war delegation from the U.S. the media can no longer say the anti-war movement in Britain is anti-American–we are opposed to the policies of the U.S. government, not to its people.” He applauded the work of the international anti-war movement saying “they would not be talking about a draw down of troops if it were not for our pressure along with the success of the Iraqi resistance. We must keep marching until they stop killing and settle for nothing less than total withdrawal.”
One of the British crowds favorite was Walter Wolfgang, a small 82-year old Jewish escapee from the Nazis who was manhandled out of Labor conference on September 29, 2005 for daring to yell “nonsense” at Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. To the roar of the crowd, Wolfgang proclaimed “many of those who supported the war but now say it was wrong also say ‘but we can’t leave’–now that’s nonsense!” He broached the common sense position “because we have caused the problem by engaging in an unjustified invasion we cannot be part of the solution.” He concluded to cheering “We cannot afford the world to revert to barbarism. We must win. We shall win. We can overcome.”
“Building an International Movement”
Ismael Patel of Friends of Al Aqsa described these as the “most dangerous times not only because we have the technology to destroy the world but because we have leaders that have chosen to divide us–‘with us or against us.'” Herbert Docena of Focus on Global South said “it should not be up to Bush and Blair to determine the terms of withdrawal, that is like letting the rapist determine the victim’s therapy.” He urged “real solidarity with the Iraqi people” and “putting down the lie that Iraqis are all terrorists.” Sabah Jaward of Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation said “The U.S. is seeking global domination, this requires a global response.”
Judith LaBlanc of the U.S. based United for Peace and Justice described these as “times of great danger and great suffering, but also a great moment for this historic movement.” She pointed to the AFL-CIO urging an end to the war after local organizing showed widespread support in the labor movement. She also described the Dakota tribe showing their support for an end to the war by presenting Cindy Sheehan with a quilt made by 500 Dakota families. She said “our movement is only as strong as the international movement. And we cannot accept partial withdrawal. It must be complete withdrawal with no military bases left behind.”
Dr. Azzam Tamini of the Muslim Association of Britain urged the international peace movement to seek peace not only in Iraq but in Palestine as well. Those who occupy both countries he says “seek their victims to capitulate their lives and resources. The occupiers would pay billions for peace but money can’t buy dignity. Millions are willing to stand up and die for dignity.” “Peace,” he went on to say “must be armed by justice, with no fear of political power or weapons.” He also described truth as an essential for finding a real peace and asked “Why do European and Americans continue to deny what they did to Palestinians and Iraqis. Millions are refugees because they want Israel to exist in my land.”
Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn who is an anti-war activist said “the international peace movement has been built but it will exist by its actions.” He noted there are conflicts throughout the world that should not be accepted or ignored. The cause of all these conflicts he said “global inequality–global corporations that fund the U.S. military in order to get the resources from weaker and poorer countries. Only rational sharing and use of resources fairly will lead to peace.”
The final speaker was Member of Parliament George Galloway said that “everything this great movement said about Iraq turned out to be true. Everything our enemies, not just the politicians but the corporate media, said turned out to be a lie. We’ve already had our first victory, Tony Blair will not be able to join Bush in any attack on Iran or Syria.” He described the power of the truth when he discussed his famous trip to the United States to appear before a Senate committee, saying “The reason my visit to the Senate on May 17 was as popular as it was because I got up close to the killers and crooks and told them the truth.” He applauded the U.S. people for seeing the truth saying “amidst the fog of war and disinformation” in the media. He concluded we must not stop until “Bush and Blair are brought to account.” Further he said we must realize that “all of those who voted for this slaughter are guilty of murder. There is no point returning those who voted for the war, endorsing those who voted for an illegal war, by voting for them in the next election.”
STATEMENT FROM THE INTERNATIONAL PEACE CONFERENCE
London, England, December 10, 2005
This international conference, embracing representatives of the Iraqi, British and American and many other peoples, drawn from all parts of society, declares that the crisis caused by the invasion and occupation of Iraq is the central problem in world politics today and demands urgent resolution.
It affirms that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was unlawful, in breach of the Charter of the United Nations and justified by the invading powers with lies designed to manipulate public opinion.
It declares that the occupation of Iraq by US and British military forces has brought misery and suffering to the people of Iraq. The occupation represents the denial of their national rights, impedes social, economic and political development and threatens the wider peace in the Middle East and the world. It has accounted for the loss of tens of thousands of lives of the Iraqi peoples, as well as more than 2,000 soldiers from the occupying armies.
This conference therefore demands an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq, as called for by the majority of the Iraqi, British and American peoples. It demands the withdrawal of the occupying military forces and the return of full sovereignty to the Iraqi people, who should be allowed to determine their own future free of external interference.
We salute the struggle of the Iraqi people for national freedom and the worldwide movement against the war and the occupation. We pledge to step up our campaign against the occupation until it is ended. To this end, we call on the anti-war movement in all countries to:
Organize international demonstrations on March 18-19 2006, the third anniversary of the war and invasion, calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops and an end to the occupation.
Campaign for a full international public inquiry into the assault on Fallujah last year.
Give full support to the campaigns of military families in the US, Britain and the other occupying countries.
Develop an international coordination from this conference to plan further events.
Campaign against the privatization of Iraqi oil.
Oppose any attack on Iran or Syria.
STATEMENT FROM THE INTERNATIONAL PEACE CONFERENCE CONCERNING THE RELEASE OF HOSTAGES
This international Peace Conference of 1,400 anti-war activists from Britain, the USA and many other countries demands the release of all illegally detained prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.
We urge the release of the four Christian peace campaigners, Norman Kember, Tom Fox, James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, and we ask those holding them to return them to their families unharmed.
KEVIN ZEESE is director of Democracy Rising.