Saturday, July 19, 2008

Justice for Iraq

I went to the Iraq Occupation Focus day school today Justice for Iraq. I really like the IOF day schools because they tend to have a more intellectually honest approach to discussion. It seems to me that it's healthy not to tie ideas too tightly to action (shock) because you end up with the cart leading the horse. I tend to think of IOF as a bit of a think tank for the anti-war movement although I've absolutely no idea if that's anything like the way they see themselves.

One of the things that distinguishes them is a concentration on the actual news coming out of Iraq rather than selecting those bits that might suit a preconceived agenda. It's not as if you have to apply any spin to see what a catastrophic idea the war has been from start to will-it-ever finish. So I'd recommend signing up for their ultra-regular newsletter which always contains far too much info to easily digest in one sitting.

Sami Ramadani spoke first, and as ever he was brutally honest. Firstly, in recent months Iraq has been getting far less attention in the press and the simply fact is this is because less US and UK troops are coming home in body bags. As one speaker mentioned later on, we may see a shift in emphasis away from killings and torture perpetrated by occupying forces, with a weak client state looking on, and move far more towards an authoritarian Iraqi state. In that circumstance the emphasis will need to shift from the withdrawal of troops towards the human rights of Iraqis.

Ramadani pointed out, rather carefully, that the actions of "Al Quaida like groups" in Iraq have been extremely useful for the occupation. It allows them to paint Al Quaida as the resistance, essentially gives whole areas to the occupation, stokes fear in the populace and brings the occupations natural enemies together under the auspices of fighting Al Quaida.

What's clear is that US forces are not going anywhere anytime soon and with every passing day Iraq sinks deeper into the quagmire of internal division and impoverishment.

A number of other speakers talked about the handing over of Iraq's economic resources, and the incompetent mismanagement of the post-invasion economy. In fact there was a lot of detail on this in one of the sessions, which I felt was extremely useful in outlining how malfunctioning and weak Iraq's economy had become - and how this was the inevitable outcome, if not intention, of the US policy. But if the US came to liberate Iraq why is it dictating economic policy? Why does the Iraq Development fund sit in the Federal Bank of New York?

We don't want to reflect this colonial attitude in our movement. Discussions on whether water boarding is torture, or when the right time to withdraw troops are not questions we have a right to ask - we shouldn't even be attempting to tell Iraqis what to do or give ourselves options about how long we stay or how we treat prisoners we had no right to take. We're not a charitable movement looking after the needy Iraqis - but a solidarity movement working with and for our mutual benefit. Nor do we pretend we have a blue print for a utopian Iraq - just one free from imperialist occupation.

That means not just the troops but their corporate friends too. These outside companies have been intensifying the conflict, both through the social impact of their behaviour but also very directly through their use of mercenaries who seems to be unaccountable to anyone. The perfect neo-con state in fact.

I'll let John Hillary of War on Want sum up the tasks of the anti-war movement for me. Partly because he was very clear - but also partly he chose not to pull his punches.

  • A long term occupation means a long term resistance, here.
  • We have to support the Iraqi resistance (discuss).
  • We have to provide solidarity with those, such as Iraqi trade unions, who are working to build an alternative civil society.
  • We need to oppose the privatisation of the occupation.
  • We need justice for the victims.
  • We need to rebuild Iraq, on Iraqi terms, not ours.
  • We need to end the occupation itself.
All in all it was a good and useful day - going through my notes I realise I've written far more than I should sensibly put into a blog post but it was good to hear thoughtful disagreement, without the need to prove how important an organisation is, or why everything needs to be geared towards the next mobilisation. There was discussion of specific actions but we weren't hit over the head with them, and I find that very refreshing.


harpymarx said...

I was there as well. And thought the day was useful esp. the statement at the end.

Also the campaign against the oil law has shown real bravery and defiance from the Iraqis.

They still need our international solidarity in fighting this oil law.

Rayyan said...

Hi Jim, thanks for the comment on my blog - please link to me as well.

This Day School sounds really fascinating - if you do ever type up all your notes, it would be great if you could distribute them to GP members, or perhaps even run a fringe on the issue at conference (although I think the deadline has passed for that, has it not?).

My understanding is that our presence in Basra (not sure about the rest of Iraq) is very minor at present, and we're essentially waiting for the US to pull out before our government does too. Surely, if Obama is elected then the occupation will end relatively soon? I was intrigued by this part of your post:

"We shouldn't even be attempting to...give ourselves options about how long we stay or how we treat prisoners we had no right to take"

Does this mean you've changed your mind about the position of HOPI and CPGB inside the anti-war movement, as expressed here:

I've always thought external forces have no right to dictate what alternative government the Iraqis or the Iranians (if they are indeed invaded) should adopt - and that the focus of the movement should be purely opposing our own government's war and offering solidarity with occupying nations.


Ed said...

Ramadani often claims, or hints, that (some of) the sectarian attacks of 'Al Qaeda in Iraq' are the work of occupation forces. I'm afraid I just don't buy it. The more likely truth is that those atrocities really are carried out by anti-occupation forces. I think people like Ramadani need to have a romantic, basically uniformly decent resistance to support.

But the elements in the resistance really do abduct and torture people. They really do execute suspected informers, drill holes in their skulls, assassinate people for selling alcohol and they really do blow civilians' legs off and bowels out in car bomb attacks.

This isn't meant as a 'Decent Left' broadside - it's obvious that the occupation forces blow up civilians, torture them and employ deaths squads themselves. But the resistance, are very largely, death squads too. It could hardly be otherwise in a nasty urban guerilla war like that. But I'm unhappy about 'supporting' the resistance.

Anyway, good interesting post. You have been on fire recently Jim.

Jim Jay said...

Hi Rayyan, I'm not likely to type them up *but* all the talks were videoed so I'm hoping the IOF site will be carrying them soon.

There were some GP members there and I'd like to see more taking parts in different parts of the anti-war movement including the Stop the War Coalition - but by no means limitted to it.

Good question re hopi. I hope I'm not playing word games when I say that I think there's a different between expressing solidarity with those victimised for being a trade unionist or gay and arguing that our armed forces should remain in a region until they sort out a, b and c.

Damn good question though - it pulled me up for a moment. Thanks for keeping me on my toes!

Ed: yeah, I almost talked about this but didn't want to bulk the post up. What was interesting is that, like you, I've heard him say some very doubtful things about the resistance before (verging on all the bad things are occupation acts), he very carefully avoided saying that this time - which is very interesting and shows a development in his speaking style at least, and possibly a more nuanced political approach.

So he carefully choose words such as "Al Quaida like groups" whose acts were useful to the occupation. This is definately not saying they are covert forces acting for the occupation, only that they have a poor strategy.

I like this development.

I was surpised to hear that war on want "support the resistance" without any caveats or extra analysis - as you say this is not one homogenous group and some actions are far from helpful for the people of Iraq.