No doubt, the
international peace movement deepened, broadened and increased its
solidarity at the conference. Approximately, 1,200 people packed the
Royal Horticultural Society Hall in an event that remained full
throughout the day until 8 PM at night.
Tuesday, 13 December 2005
Andrew Murray the Chair of the Stop the War Coalition opened a conference in London on December 10th
describing it as an "historic event" that brings together peace
activists from around the world. Indeed, the conference included
delegates from the United States, Britain, Iraq, Iran, 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 would be seen depending on
the actions taken as a result of the event.
The conference passed two resolutions: One deplored the holding of illegally detained prisoners and called for the release of four Christian Peace Workers
who are currently being held hostage. The other described the Iraq War
as the "central problem in world politics today and demands urgent
resolution" and laid out plans for the future - including a major international demonstration on March 18-19 - the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
the speakers that attendees came to hear were Iraqi delegates. This was
made controversial when the British government refused to allow entry
to the al Sadr representative, Hassan al Zargani. In a statement he
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
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 Phyllis Bennis of Institute for Policy Studies.
The Current Situation
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 desires
of a 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 "demands that troops be brought
home, opposes an attack on Syria or Iran, supports the Palestinian
peoples right of return, seeks removal of nuclear weapons and demands
our civil liberties - the basis of democracy - be protected." 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."
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, 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, 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. He quoted 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 pregnantŚthe 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 how
"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 reality. And, the resistance is
legitimate." He was careful to point out that terrorism is not
legitimate and rejected it. 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
In my comment I said 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 so 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 weapons in Fallujah, we
cannot win the hearts and minds of Iraqis.
Military Family and Iraq Veterans
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 indeed die for a noble
cause that being "we will not tolerate wars based on false pretenses."
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 Iraq 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
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 piece. 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 indicated that this is beginning to occur
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 form 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."
Medea Benjamin of Code Pink excited
the crowd with a speech that recited how the United States and Great
Britain abusive actions were not consistent with democracy. She
announced that next year a new organization would be formed women
opposed to war that would further expand the role of women in the
leadership of the anti-war movement.
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 ask "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
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
Hassan Juma, President of the Southern Iraqi Oil Workers' Union,
described how union workers have continued to fight for their rights
despite abuse and incarceration; how they see the war is really 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."
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 they asked
her was 'are you a virgin?' but the occupiers 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."
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 sharing 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
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 saying they are '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
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 Indian 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 Europeans 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 fair use of resources
will lead to peace."
The final speaker, Member of Parliament George Galloway,
said to a cheering crowd 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, hose who voted for an illegal
war must be removed in the next election."