Labour Friends of Iraq
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March 14, 2006


LFIQ Joint President and former MP Harry Barnes, who helped found Labour against the War, casts a critical eye over the platform for the coming Stop the War demonstration.

The "Stop the War Coalition" is organising a demonstration entitled "Troops Home from Iraq, Don't Attack Iran." To drum up support, they have produced a leaflet which contains ten reasons for joining in. Each of these is fundamentally flawed.

REASON 1. "Iraq is suffering - the occupation has cost more than 100,000 lives with no end in sight. Iraqis want our troops to go."

Whilst the figures are exaggerated, this is not the reason for challenging this statement. For the numbers killed has been (and each day continues to be) serious. Current brutal murders are being undertaken by terrorists against ordinary Iraqis. Such acts have to be condemned and action has to be taken to seek to protect Iraq's citizen. Until Iraq can fully operate its own security services, there is a case for some form of foreign troops being in place to aid protections. The Iraqi people now have a Parliament through which to express their views.

If the Parliament decides that our troops should leave, then we should act in conformity with their wishes. A Government when properly established and a Parliament are better placed to work out an overall strategy involving withdrawal, than are our judgements about public opinion. The Coalition's strategy is one of cut-and-run and of ignoring Iraq's properly expressed wishes.

REASON 2. "British troops are dying in Blair's war - nearly 100 so far, with hundreds more badly injured."

To prevent further killings and injuries to British Troops, we need to remove the terrorist threat, rather than give in to it. The Coalition should be just as concerned about the current role of terrorists as they were about the original invasion. In any case, strictly speaking, the war is over. An occupation then followed and we have now moved into a democratic set of arrangements which, however, lives alongside the democratic deficit of still living alongside foreign troops. It isn't perfect, but if the troops leave prematurely, then so might the prospect of a fully functioning democracy. All this is difficult for the Coalition to recognise, and they would have to change its name to "Stop the attempt to move to a fuller democracy."

REASON 3 "The US and Britain are plotting new aggression - against Iran above all. The war could spread and it could become a nuclear war."

Whilst an attack on Iran would be disastrous, the Coalition needs to adopt alternative strategies for tackling the massive shortcomings of the Iranian Regime. These include the Authorities’ attack on the bus drivers of Tehran, the subjugation of women, encouragements to religious extremism, homophobia and ignoring the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Because we should not bomb and/or invade Iran, doesn't mean that we shouldn't seek to influence it so that it will end the worst of its practices.

REASON 4. "We were lied to about the attack on Iraq - it is time Blair was held to account for his decisions, which have undermined democracy."

It is nice to see that the Coalition has an interest in democracy. Unfortunately, it is only our democracy they seek to defend and not the Iraqis'. Whatever it is that needs to be done to "bring Blair to account", we need to have a couple of points in mind. First, we should not take our eye off the ball which is that of seeking to assist the Iraqi people to build a democratic system which meets the basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, security and the chance to participate in educational, artistic, cultural and scientific investigations. Actually, we can use a vulnerable Blair to further such ends. Secondly, if the rest of us join in the call for legal and political action against Blair, it will be assumed that we share the Coalition's agenda and that the democratic and socialist points made above are secondary to our hatred for Blair. Perhaps the Coalition should leave others to further a change at Downing Street.

REASON 5 "Blair's foreign policy is making Britain a terror target, as the atrocities of July 7 last year proved."

It is the foreign policy on key matters that effect the Middle East, which I assume the Coalition has its sights upon. Yet no matter how problematic these policies are, it is clear that the great bulk of Muslims in Britain have not been turned into suicide bombers or their supporters. But is the Coalition responding to what is at least the other half of the praxis of evil when it comes to suicide bombings, as illustrated in the crude philosophy and the "ideas" people such as Abu Hamza. Even with suicide bombers, it needs more than the forces of Imperialism to fashion their minds.

REASON 6. "Freedom is under threat - civil liberties are being torn up by the government because of the so-called "war on terror".

Whilst the Government and the Police have been keen to use a security crisis to extend their powers, this does not mean that no genuine crisis exists. The only solution is to work out a balance in which as many rights as possible are left for citizens, within a framework of the most sensible security arrangements. There is no easy formula for this, other than eternal vigilance, with an ability to pull back powers that have proven to been excessive or to have been badly used. Crying "wolf" can be as dangerous as baying for the moon.

REASON 7. "British Muslims are under threat. We must stand together to protect communities being targeted by Islamophobic racists."

In so far as this is a call for solidarity it is fine. Of course, it has nothing to do with the Coalition's case about Iraq and Iran. There is plenty of hidden and open racism in British Society. Muslims face this more than ever, because racists latch on to any passing openings. This happens even though all Muslims aren't Arabs and all Arabs aren't Muslims. But racists don't draw these distinctions, because they don't know or they don't care. One consequence of challenging Islamophobic attitudes is, of course, not to desert the people of Iraq, who in the main are Islamic. They need our protection. We should stand together to provide it.

REASON 8. "Billions are being wasted on the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan which could be used for pensions and public services in Britain"

Now Afghanistan has been added to the protest. The title should have been extended to include "Troops Home from Afghanistan. All power to the Talliban." To say that a major reason for taking our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan is to have more money for social expenditure at home is a non-starter. Does it mean that we should stop other forms of overseas expenditure for this better form of domestic expenditure; including an end to overseas aid? If money were saved by bringing the troops home, what is the mechanism that will prevent it from then being spent to the advantage of the undeserving rich? Perhaps the Coalition was getting pushed to fill up its quota of 10 points.

REASON 9. "March 18 is an international day of action against the occupation. Protests are already planned across the world, including Iraq."

All people, especially Iraqis should have the opportunity to engage in peaceful protests on matters which are free from actions to stimulate racial, religious, tribal, and sexual forms of hatred. Peaceful protest is a legitimate form of pressure politics and it helps to knit people together in the cause they are pursuing. Peaceful protest in Iraq about the presence of British and American troops is greatly to be preferred to suicide bombings and other violence
directed at bringing towards the same ends. It is also much better than expressions of religious fanaticism such as that expressed within the Al Sadr movement. It is to be hoped that the Coalition in its links with groups in Iraq has made it clear that it will in no way associate itself with any forms of intolerant extremism including demonstrations on March 18 by the Al Sadr movement."

REASON 10. "The world will be watching - let's show friend and foe alike that the British are opposed to the Iraq occupation and the threats to world peace and freedom"

We can't be defenders of peace and freedom by giving in to terrorism or to tribal and religious bigotry. Thankfully in Iraq, the bulk of the people take a similar line and should have our active support. The way the Iraqi people come out of their homes to try and help the victims of terrorism should be an inspiration to us all. It goes beyond the devotion of the people of London in the blitz during the Second World War, for no-one can sound the all clear on
terrorist activity. Perhaps some day we will be able to mobilise people onto the streets to join the Iraqi people in their struggle to have peace from terrorism and their freedom to form Political Parties, Trade Unions, Women's Organisations, Youth Groups and other Voluntary Associations.

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