The torture of Iraqi men, the rape of Iraqi women, car bombs in the squares of Baghdad, and the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians seems so distant to us in Wellington that it is easy to forget – amidst our deadlines, flat whites, and relationship woes – that war is raging in the Middle East
Tuesday March 20 marks the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. On that day in 2003, US Air Force planes began the widespread bombing of the country. The slaughter of innocent people has not ceased since then. In the 1460 days since the illegal war’s inception, more than 650,000 civilians have been killed as a result of George W Bush’s lust to control the region and its oil reserves.
The last four years have been littered with errors and atrocities. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There were no links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. There were no terrorist training camps in Iraq. The Iraqi people have done no wrong, yet they have had to suffer because of the greed of the American administration. We are all familiar with the images from Abu Ghraib, but there have been many more war crimes committed. For instance, former US soldier Jeff Englehart has revealed that the US military used white phosphorus (an illegal weapon) in Fallujah, stating that he saw “burned bodies, burned women, burned children; white phosphorus kills indiscriminately… When it makes contact with skin, then it’s absolutely irreversible damage, burning flesh to the bone.” We have seen the video footage of British soldiers severely beating unarmed Iraqi youth; we have read the newspaper coverage of Iraqi children being shot at military checkpoints; and we have heard about US helicopters killing civilians.
With foreign troops occupying Iraq, and a government which has changed three times in the last three years, there is a power vacuum in the city halls and on the streets.
Democracy – despite what Bush and Blair say – does not exist. Sunni and Shi’a factions have taken advantage of the lack of governmental control, and now the citizens of Iraq have a civil war to deal with as well as the occupation of their country. This is the price Iraqis pay for living on one of the largest oil reserves in the world. As Iraqi blogger River asserts, “A day in the life of the average Iraqi has been reduced to identifying corpses, avoiding car bombs and attempting to keep track of which family members have been detained, which ones have been exiled and which ones have been abducted”.
Beside oil, the war in Iraq is part of the larger war on terrorism. The so-called war is a convenient cover for extending state and corporate power into our lives. The war on terror is the justification for increasingly large military spending, invasions of foreign countries under the pretence of spreading democracy, assaults on personal freedom, and racist immigration policies. A recent study conducted by Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, research fellows at the Center of Law and Security at the NYC School of Law, argues that instead of stopping terrorism, the war on terror has resulted in an increase in fundamentalist violence worldwide. Bergen and Cruickshank state that “the Iraq conflict has greatly increased the spread of al-Qaida ideological virus, as shown by a rising number of terrorist attacks in the past three years from London to Kabul, and from Madrid to the Red Sea. “Our study shows that the Iraq war has generated a stunning increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and civilian lives lost. Even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one third.”
New Zealand is part of the war on terror too, despite government propaganda that would have us believe otherwise. New Zealand has had troops based in Afghanistan since 2001 under the command of the US. The NZDF is based at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan where there has been documented abuse of prisoners by the US military. The SAS has assisted in ‘direct action missions’ that have killed civilians.
In Iraq, New Zealand provided soldiers to serve with the British forces in Basra. These troops, deployed in 2003 to do ‘reconstruction’, were propping up the occupying armies and taking work away from local people.
However, the biggest New Zealand contribution to the war on terror is through two spy bases in New Zealand: one at Waihopai (near Blenheim), the other at Tangimoana (near Levin). These spy bases are operated by New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) in the interests of the foreign powers grouped together in the super-secret UKUSA Agreement (which shares global electronic and signals intelligence among the intelligence agencies of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). They intercept a huge volume of satellite phone calls, including New Zealanders’ international calls, telexes, faxes, e-mail and computer data communications and forward this information to the US National Security Agency. These spy bases – paid for by the New Zealand public – provide surveillance for the US 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year long, invading our privacy without our consent.
Meanwhile, the situation in the Middle East looks set to get worse. The Bush administration has stepped up its plans for an air attack on Iran.
More than ever we need to tell the governments of the world to end war. Most people in New Zealand want the war in Iraq and the war on terror to be over. Helen Clark had the chance to express this point of view to John Howard – Bush’s leading supporter in the Pacific – when he visited Wellington earlier this month. But Clark sanctioned the war by remaining silent, refusing to express the will of the people she is supposed to represent.
So where does that leave you? So often we see problems, sigh, then shrug them off – with the inevitable question of “What can I do? I’m just one person.” There is something you can do: you can join hundreds of thousands of people around the world marking the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in protest at the needless killing of hundreds of thousands of people just like you or me.
Each one of us has a voice. If each of us listens to our conscience and speaks up, together we can send a clear signal to Helen Clark, Bush, Blair and Howard that the world wants peace in the Middle East. If we remain silent, we are giving our complicit consent to the continuation of violence and bloodshed.
With collective action, we can stop New Zealand’s participation in the war on terrorism. Demand peace, justice and self-determination for the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world. Join Peace Action Wellington on Tuesday March 20 at 12 noon at Parliament for a rally (featuring music by Olmecha Supreme) followed by action.