Issue 274 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review
|Protesting against the invasion of Iraq recently in France. Next stop Evian|
On 1 June George Bush flies to 'old Europe' to meet the other seven 'great powers' at Evian in the French Alps at the G8 summit meeting. In his mind's eye no doubt he comes as conqueror--in reality he will be flying into a few problems. Hundreds of anti-war activists and campaigners met at the end of April to ensure that Bush and the other warmongers will get a 'warm' reception.
At the diplomatic level the war on Iraq has created huge tensions and resentments. French and German opposition to the war has translated into an initiative to rearm Europe. While divisions among the European powers may not worry the Pentagon hawks too much for now, the fallout has been global. China has already warned the US that it will regard any US 'engagement' in North Korea as an infringement on its interests. WTO officials are concerned that global resentment against the US's behaviour will torpedo the already strained trade negotiations in the run-up to the Cancun ministerial meeting of the WTO this autumn.
At the same time, the shine is already beginning to come off the victory in Iraq. The repression grows and the number of Iraqi victims of the occupation continues to mount. Also, it has got to be a little awkward, even for George Bush, that US forces still haven't come across weapons of mass destruction, or for that matter Saddam Hussein. US forces still come under regular attack and face regular demonstrations from the Iraqi people. As every day passes the real agenda of the war becomes clearer--US corporations are taking over the oil and control of the ports, as well as the education and medical services. Embarrassingly for Bush and Blair, demands from ordinary Iraqis for an Islamic state are gaining ground.
And then there are the protests outside Iraq. Military victory doesn't alter the fact that the war has pushed popular hatred of the US and its partners to stratospheric levels. Opposition to war reached 80 percent of popular opinion in many countries from France to the Philippines. In Turkey and Spain it was over 90 percent. The impressive demonstrations in more than 40 countries on 12 April, days after the US victory, shows that the warmongers will face continued political opposition.
The Iraq war has actually strengthened the wider movement for global justice. April's meeting to prepare the European Social Forum and the protests against the G8 leaders was the biggest so far--and the hundreds of activists who came together all reported that the anti-war demos had brought thousands of new people into the protest movement. The agenda of the movement has also been strengthened by the discussions connecting militarism with globalisation.
The protests at Evian are a great chance to cement the links between the anti-war and global justice movements. It is a crucial opportunity to show the masters of business and war that the movement is growing.
Proceedings will start with various forums and actions on Thursday 29 May, based round activist camps near the French town of Annemasse, ten kilometres from Geneva. On Saturday 31 May there will be four counter-summits in Geneva against debt, privatisation of pensions, the WTO, and war and occupation, followed by a mass assembly in the evening. On Sunday 1 June there will be two demonstrations, one from Annemasse and one from Geneva, that will converge in what organisers hope will be a gathering big enough to blockade the whole area.
Activists across Europe are gearing up for a huge turnout. Coaches are booked from Norway to Greece. German Attac is organising a train with the help of local union branches. The Swiss are expecting a massive turnout after the huge anti-war demonstrations that have taken place.
It is now crucial to raise the Evian protest in Stop the War Coalition rallies, union meetings or at college or school. Flights to Geneva are cheap at the time of going to press. Globalise Resistance have produced leaflets and an information sheet that you can get from their website (www.resist.org.uk). They can also put you in touch with speakers involved in organising the protests.
We should make sure there is publicity and information for Evian wherever activists come together. It is a chance to show the self appointed leaders of the world there is another power coming through--people power.
BETWEEN THE LINES
The sixth International Defence Exhibition and Conference took place in Dubai as war in Iraq was breaking out. The arms fair brought together some of the world's largest weapons manufacturers, mostly from Britain and the US. Visitors could browse stalls selling everything from guns to warplanes. They could also visit a firing range to try out the new weaponry, maybe watch a live demonstration...in nearby Iraq.
How about this for some BBC objective reporting? BBC News 24 anchorman Huw Edwards commented on some video footage recently: 'Apparently they're shouting, "Saddam, your days are numbered".'
He then admitted, 'Unfortunately I cannot verify that because (a) there is no sound, and (b) I do not speak Arabic.'
The Sugar Association and six other food industry groups are lobbying to stop US funding to the World Health Organisation if it publishes a report recommending a low sugar diet. The sweet smell of excess, perhaps?
Buried beneath the headlines
While launching its witch-hunt against anti-war Labour MP George Galloway the Daily Telegraph used the opportunity to 'bury' or ignore other news stories of considerably more significance. The most important of these was the statement by the head of the UN weapons inspectorate Hans Blix that the US and Britain had used 'shaky' evidence, including forged documents, as a pretext for making war on Iraq.
Prior to the war the government claimed that Iraq attempted to procure uranium from Niger in West Africa for its nuclear weapons programme. The infamous 'dossier' released by Blair last September stated, 'There is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa' (p25). In fact this 'intelligence' amounts to nothing but a series of forged documents. Even the Blair government has now admitted that the documents submitted to the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) last year to substantiate the dossier are not authentic.
Just before the war started the IAEA came close to saying that Iraq has no nuclear weapons. Many of the plants named in the dossier as potential sites of chemical and biological warfare manufacture were inspected by UN weapons teams and found not to be incriminating. None of the 12 to 20 Scud missiles Iraq was accused of having retained have been found. Nor have the so called mobile biological warfare laboratories which Colin Powell showed drawings of to the UN Security Council. There have also been numerous rumours and false leads. There was the case extensively reported during the war of US soldiers who were overcome by the 'effects of a nerve agent'. In fact they were suffering from dehydration and recovered quickly after being given food and drink.
More important for the people of Iraq is the humanitarian disaster caused by the war. Water and power has yet to be restored to many cities including the capital Baghdad. In Nasiriya local people have been forced to break into underground pipes to access water, resulting in raw sewage seeping into the system. There is now a high risk of a cholera outbreak. Since the third day of the war the city's electricity supply has been out of action. This has brought the sewerage pumps to a halt, so that much of this city of half a million people is sitting on a bed of stale human waste. In places it has started to seep up to ground level. In some of its medical practices 80 percent of patients are suffering from some sort of water infection. Dr Abdul Al-Shadood says his Al-Meelad clinic is seeing an average of 22 gastroenteritis cases a day, compared to one or two before the war. 'If this is not diagnosed and treated quickly in children they will die,' says the doctor.
The problems confronting aid agencies have been made worse by the prewar actions of the US and Britain. The UN launched an emergency preparedness appeal last December and January for $125 million. In the absence of a UN resolution authorising war less than half of this sum was pledged. On the eve of the conflict on 19 March the UN had still only received $34 million. NGOs have been hampered by diplomatic secrecy and an apparently deliberate decision to withhold information about the humanitarian dimensions of the war plans. The US refused to take part in the Swiss government's humanitarian planning meeting in Geneva in February. As of 15 April only $387 million has been pledged in response to the UN's flash appeal for over $2.2 billion to cover food and non-food aid for Iraq over the next six months. It is worth noting that $2.2 billion (at $11.9 million per day) barely surpasses the starvation ration of the Oil for Food Programme ($11.7 million per day) available to Iraq prior to the additional infrastructure damage caused by the war.
|Manchester student Tom Hurndall, who was shot by the Israelis|
Yasser Arafat's appointment of Mahmoud Abbas as prime minister, and the acceptance of his demands for the make-up of the cabinet, have removed George Bush's last remaining excuse for not publishing his 'road map' for the Middle East peace process. But while the hackles of some Zionists will inevitably be raised by the semantics of the deal, this is not a process designed to deliver the Palestinians the justice they have long fought for.
Israel provided stark proof of this on 20 April, mounting its biggest assault into the Gaza Strip since the intifada began in September 2000, killing five (including a 15 year old boy) and injuring over 40 people in the process. Meanwhile two international peace activists have been deliberately murdered by the Israeli army, and a third, Manchester Metropolitan University student Tom Hurndall, was shot in the head and is currently on life support.
As always, Israel's pretext was 'combating terrorism', but the timing was designed to undermine Arafat's attempts to mediate between popular resistance to Israeli occupation and the desire of a layer of the Palestinians' political class to reach a humiliating settlement. Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, is the leading proponent of the latter view, and as such was imposed in the most outrageous fashion on the Palestinian Authority. The pressure put on Arafat included the EU representative Miguel Angel Moratinos dictating that Abbas was the only candidate that the EU would accept as prime minister, and barely veiled threats that the 'international community' would allow Sharon to expel or assassinate Arafat if he refused to comply.
Israel has presented the much-vaunted 'road map' as a huge sacrifice on its part. In fact it is likely to legalise many of the 100 militarised Zionist settlements that divide the West Bank and systematically deny the Palestinians land and water supplies. Crucially, the promise of a Palestinian state within three years is premised on that state policing Israel's 'right' to the majority of land occupied since 1948, and on more than 3 million Palestinian refugees foregoing their right to return to that land. Hence the symbolic importance of the appointment of Mohammed Dahlan--Abbas's ally--as State Minister for Internal Security.
The US would like Abbas to spearhead the suppression of Palestinian resistance, much as it envisaged the Palestinian Authority's role as being merely an adjunct of the Israeli Defence Force after the Oslo Peace Accords. But that retrenchment of Israeli hegemony created the groundswell of anger that inspired the intifada, and the international support for the Palestinians' struggle has never been greater.
'Many people have left the Labour Party. There are also large numbers who have let their membership lapse. In east Dorset, where I come from, there are only five Labour candidates put up for 34 seats. I have actually registered as Dorset Stop the War and we are fielding ten candidates.' So said Damien Stone, a former Labour councillor who is standing in the local elections on 1 May. Some 10,000 seats are being contested, yet despite newspaper reports of a postwar surge in support for Blair and New Labour there are plenty of signs that they will face a difficult night on 1 May.
One indicator is the demoralisation among Labour activists themselves, as Damien Stone explains: 'I have been a member of the Labour Party for ten years and I certainly didn't expect Blair to take us to war against Iraq. I set up public meetings against the war and at none of these have there been Labour Party members--nobody was prepared to put the case for war. It is like the Labour Party membership has gone completely underground. All these people who worked so hard to get Labour elected over all these years have disappeared.'
It was a view echoed by Labour Party member Christina Muspratt of Wirral South in Merseyside. She said, 'People like me were appalled at the war in Iraq. There is deep discontent, and this has gone across the boundaries, not just those who are traditionally left wing. I have been in the Labour Party now for 40 years, and I did think about leaving over this issue, but some comrades persuaded me that that would be the wrong thing to do. I think it would just be a gesture to leave. I would feel disloyal, but I do feel the government has been separate from the rest of the party on this issue.'
Labour has only found candidates for two thirds of the seats being contested. The Labour leadership played down expectations prior to the election. Ian McCartney, Labour's new party chair, admitted at the launch meeting in Birmingham, 'It's going to be a tough election out there for us.'
In some areas people will have the opportunity to vote for a socialist candidate. The Socialist Alliance is standing around 160 candidates, and is focusing on opposition to the war and the occupation of Iraq, as well as local issues. In Scotland the Scottish Socialist Party is hoping to increase its share of the vote, although the SNP has been doing well recently in the polls. There is also the danger of the Nazi BNP vote in a number of areas. In the run-up to the election anti-Nazi campaigners and trade unionists were taking their campaign to the streets with a major demonstration through Manchester, sponsored by Unison.
All the indications are there that anger over the war in Iraq and New Labour's attacks on working class people at home has led to a growing resentment and disillusionment among Labour's activists. This increases the opportunity to build resistance to these attacks in the weeks ahead.
State sponsored murder
'A service to be proud of' declares the Police Service of Northern Ireland website. The RUC may have been renamed, but the 'service' this force provides is one of which only sectarian bigots can be proud, as the recent Stevens report concluded. That collusion existed between Loyalist paramilitaries and the RUC is no surprise to anyone familiar with the British state's role in Ireland, but to read the clipped tones of one of its high ranking officers spelling it out is a revelation.
The focus of this inquiry was the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane, shot dead in front of his family in 1989. It is now known that several members of the UDA squad that murdered Finucane were police agents at the time and had warned their handlers in advance of the plan. The blandly named Force Research Unit (FRU) recruited and ran the agents involved, who included Brian Nelson, one of the state's most valued undercover agents, William Stobie, the UDA man who provided the weapon, and Ken Barrett, a UDA assassin who admitted to BBC's Panorama that he was one of the two gunmen who actually shot Finucane.
Far from denying passing intelligence details of individuals to agents in murder gangs, the FRU defend it. They say that their informers had to protect their cover at all costs, including taking part in terrorist activities. So if they were going to have to murder people, then it would be better if they were 'real' Republicans rather than 'innocent' Catholics. So they provided photographs, descriptions and addresses of individuals to be targeted. As one official document, dated 3 May 1988, states, '6137 [Nelson] wants the UDA only to attack legitimate targets and not innocent Catholics. Since 6137 took up his position as intelligence officer, the targeting has developed and is now more professional.'
So as Pat Finucane's son Michael has pointed out, his father's murder was not some aberration or slip-up by police handlers. It was part of the logic of a deliberate plan to use Loyalist murder gangs to take out troublesome individuals: 'Simple policy, simple operation, simply chilling.'
This simple policy was known at the highest levels of government, and political influence was used with great effect. Home Office minister Douglas Hogg reported to parliament in January 1989, 'I have to state as a fact but with great regret that there are in Northern Ireland a number of solicitors who are unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA.' Pat Finucane was murdered three weeks later.
At every point the inquiry was blocked. Twice the inquiry team unsuccessfully tried to arrest Brian Nelson. The first time he was tipped off and was spirited away by his FRU handlers. Then in January 1990, the night before the second attempt, the inquiry's headquarters were burned down. The RUC investigation blamed a 'discarded cigarette'.
Nelson was eventually charged with 35 serious terrorist offences and served ten years. During the trial the officer running the FRU, Colonel Gordon Kerr, testified on Nelson's behalf. Nelson died days before the publication of the Stevens report from a reported brain haemorrhage.
Kerr was awarded a military OBE in 1991. He is currently the British military attache to Beijing. Such are the rewards for those who provide the British state with a 'service to be proud of'.
Such also is the experience of policing Northern Ireland that the British government cites when it claims it is especially suited to intervene in postwar Iraq.
It has sometimes been difficult to find accurate information about what is actually happening in Iraq. Embedded journalists only put a highly censored story. It is not surprising, then, that alternative news sources on the web have been the subject of intense debate and in some cases censorship. The nature of the internet makes websites particularly sensitive to attack or closure if their content doesn't meet the approval of the people whose computers run the site, or those with the skills to cause damage.
When Arabic satellite news channel Al Jazeera launched its news site it almost immediately suffered Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks from those who disagreed with its point of view. A DDoS attack is when floods of messages are sent to a computer to overload it and shut it down. The full story can be read here: www.theregister.co.uk. There is speculation that the US government may have been involved, but no proof, and certainly from a technical point of view there was no need for this to be the case.
At the time of writing Al Jazeera is still without a website. As the magazine the Register points out, it could be too much of a poisoned chalice for the company prepared to host it. The lack of real information coming from Iraq meant that many people were excited by the appearance of www.iraqwar.ru (English translations available from www.aeronautics.ru). This website was 'created recently by a group of journalists and military experts from Russia to provide accurate and up to date news and analysis of the war'. Even though it reported 'coalition forces' casualties much higher than even the most cynical reader of US reports might think, many people (including John Sutherland in the Guardian) praised its accurate and predictive reporting.
However, its last article, dated 8 April, says that the articles were 'not genuine materials from any Russian or other special services, but rather an "intellectual product" of the group itself'. The question remains--just how accurate was their writing?
Finally, a site that should be required reading for all those Labour MPs who backed the slaughter--www.iraqbodycount.net. There is no real need to go into details, the stark title tells it all.