As another ill-conceived offensive peters out in bloodshed, chaos and recriminations, a new opinion poll puts US opposition to the war in Iraq at sixty-one percent. The shambolic state of the US occupation of Iraq and the collapse in support at home make it hard for us to remember those salad days in the middle of 2003, when Bush was able to don a bomber jacket and proclaim 'Mission Accomplished', and opinion in most Western countries had swung behind what seemed like a wildly successful exercise in imperialism. A year later, the White House was still claiming victory and refusing to accept the existence of significant armed resistance to the occupation.
I was not particularly impressed by the triumphalist rhetoric of May and June 2003, and by the middle of 2004 it was clear to me that the US was staring down the barrel of defeat in Iraq. One of the reasons for my certainty was the experiences I had at a demonstration staged by exiled Iraqis and Palestinians during the first siege of Fallujah in the autumn of 2004. Auckland has a surprisingly large Iraqi community, and many of its members came to this part of the world as refugees from Saddam Hussein's regime (not a few of them were members of the Iraqi Communist Party, an organisation which Saddam repressed vigorously after cementing his power in the late '70s). I was struck by the way that the obvious bitterness of these exiles toward Saddam did not translate into one iota of support for Bush's invasion. I remember saying to myself 'If these people, who have more reason than most to hate Saddam and be pleased he is gone, hate US imperialism even more, then how can Bush hope for goodwill from other Iraqis?'
Here's a report of the exiles' demonstration which I sent to indymedia and various anti-war e lists back in 2004:
'Victory to Iraq!'
Auckland's Arab Community Shows the Way
On Sunday April 18 about 140 members of Auckland's Arab community and a handful of their supporters marched to the US consulate. Organised at short notice and almost totally ignored by the media, the march was a powerful show of support for the armed insurrection shaking Iraq.
The demonstrators chanted slogans like '1,2,3,4 We don't want your racist war!', 'ANZAC troops, out of Iraq!', and 'With our lives, with our blood we defend you, Iraq!'. A group of young Palestinians delighted the march by improvising a song which paid tribute to the heroism of the defenders of Fallujah. A number of Islamist chants were aired, but when a Communist Workers Group member raised an old Iraqi revolutionary chant at least a third of the crowd joined in, and others applauded.
Outside the US consulate a series of speakers emphasised the criminal nature of the US/UN occupation of Iraq, and the need to support the the Iraqi resistance to occupation. One Iraqi addressed the US government, saying 'We are not responsible for the killing - get out of our country and we will stop killing you'. Another Iraqi blasted Bush's talk of democracy, saying 'Freedom exists in Iraq only for Americans. Our country is being made safe only for Americans and Zionists'. A Palestinian speaker announced the news of the murder of Hamas leader Rantissi, and vowed that the intifada would continue until Israel was destroyed.
Bystanders were divided in their response to the demonstration. A handful were enraged, and shouted racist abuse and threats. Many, though, were very supportive. When the march passed a music store near the bottom of Queen Street a crowd of young people poured out of the store and applauded wildly. Dozens of motorists honked their support. A Communist Workers Group member talked to a young American tourist who had spontaneously joined the march to show her opposition to Bush and solidarity with Iraq.
A disappointing feature of the demonstration was the absence of almost all of Auckland's left-wing community. Apart from Students for Justice in Palestine, the CWG seemed to be the only left group represented. Several speakers emphasised the need for the Arab community to liaise better with the rest of Auckland's anti-war movement, and to explain its cause better to the general public, and one speaker urged demonstrators to come on Auckland's Mayday march.
It is certainly true that Sunday's march could have been better advertised, and that the Arab community could make stronger links with the many Aucklanders who hate Bush and his imperialist war.
But the left and the labour movement also have some work to do, if they are to reach out to the community most affected by the War of Terror. In particular, the left and the union movement must learn from the militant anti-imperialism of last Sunday's demonstration, and of the Iraqi resistance as a whole.
Auckland's Arab community is connected by family and history to an occupation which is for most of the rest of us a matter of TV images and newspaper stories. For Auckland's Arabs, the brutality of US imperialism is especially keenly felt, and the necessity of armed resistance to this imperialism is easily understood.
Last Sunday's message of solidarity with armed resistance to US and NZ troops contrasts very sharply with the official line of this country's mainstream peace movement and larger left-wing parties. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq last year, both the Alliance and the Green Party refused to support Iraqis' right to defend their homeland against Bush's armies.
Instead of backing the Iraqis, Green MPs like Keith Locke and peace movement 'celebrities' like Bishop Randerson used prime speaking slots at massive anti-war demonstrations to promote illusions that the UN and 'international law' could stop the war. When the war wasn't stopped, disappointed demonstrators disappeared faster than Saddam's WMDs. The active anti-war movement faded at the very moment the Iraqi resistance needed it most.
Twelve years of sanctions costing a million lives and a year of brutal UN-sanctioned occupation have made Iraqis somewhat sceptical about the charms of the UN. The Green Party, though, is still blindly calling for a UN 'solution' for Iraq. 'Resistance' is a word that is still absent from Comrade Locke's vocabulary.
Our union movement has an even worse record than the Greens. Echoing Helen Clark, the national leadership of the Council of Trade Unions voted to oppose unilateral US war, but said nothing against a UN-sanctioned bloodbath. When the UN rubber stamped Bush's conquest, Helen was happy to send troops, and the CTU was happy to keep quiet.
Some unions are going further, and seeking a slice of the War of Terror pie. The Engineers' Union, for instance, has been lobbying John Howard's government to build several frigates in Whangarei. (What's next fellas - a tender for a New Zealand leg of the Star Wars system Howard is co-sponsoring with Bush?) As rank and file trade unionists, we are disgusted and embarrassed by the failure of our movement to distance itself from the imperialist war machine and to show solidarity with the people fighting to stop that machine in its tracks.
Instead of acting as cogs in the War of Terror, our unions should begin a campaign of aid to the Iraqi workers’ organisations opposing the occupation of their country.
In the 1930s, New Zealand unions sent money to the Spanish republicans fighting Franco and the Nazis, and some left-wing Kiwis travelled to Spain to join the International Brigade that took on the fascists on the battlefield.
Today, the Iraqi people are defying a colonial occupation every bit as dangerous as fascism. We need to support them by getting Kiwi troops out of their country, and by aiding their struggle for real liberation. Anything less would be a betrayal of the spirit of last Sunday's demonstration.