Friday September 23 2005
There is now near-universal agreement that the western occupation of Iraq has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster; first for the people of Iraq, second for the soldiers sent by scoundrel politicians to die in a foreign land. The grammar of deceit utilised by Bush, Blair and sundry neocon/neolib apologists to justify the war has lost all credibility. Despite the embedded journalists and non-stop propaganda, the bloody images refuse to go away: the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops is the only meaningful solution. Real history moves deep within the memory of a people, but is always an obstacle to imperial fantasists: the sight of John Reid and the Iraqi prime minister brought back memories of Anthony Eden and Nuri Said in Downing Street just before the 1958 revolution that removed the British from Iraq.
The argument that withdrawal will lead to civil war is slightly absurd, since the occupation has already accelerated and exacerbated ethnic and religious tensions in Iraq. Divide and rule is the deadly logic of colonial rule - and signs that the US is planning an exit strategy coupled with a long-term presence is evident in the new Iraqi constitution, pushed through by US proconsul Zalmay Khalilzad. This document is a defacto division of Iraq into Kurdistan (a US-Israeli protectorate), Southern Iraq (dominated by Iran) and the Sunni badlands (policed by semi-reliable ex-Baathists under state department and Foreign Office tutelage). What is this if not an invitation to civil war? The occupation has also created a geopolitical mess. Recent events in Basra are linked to a western fear of Iranian domination. Having encouraged Moqtada al-Sadr's militias to resist the slavishly pro-Iranian faction, why are the British surprised when they demand real independence?
The Iranian mullahs, meanwhile, are chuckling - literally. Some months ago, when the Iranian vice-president visited the United Arab Emirates for a regional summit, he was asked by the sheikhs whether he feared a US intervention in Iran. The Iranian leader roared with laughter: "Without us, the US could never have occupied Afghanistan or Iraq. They know that and we know that invading Iran would mean they would be driven out of those two countries."
Meanwhile, there is the war at home. A war against civil liberties masked as a defence against terror. In the face of terror attacks one particular mantra, shrouded in untruth, is repeated: "We shall not permit these attacks to change our way of life." But they do. "Oh, may no more a foreign master's rage/ With wrongs yet legal, curse a future age!" wrote Alexander Pope. Three centuries later, we have Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and Britain's own state security prison, Belmarsh, in which some of those held indefinitely without trial have been driven mad and transferred to Broadmoor. Nor should one forget the public execution of Jean Charles de Menezes and the attempted cover-up that followed.
There will be no progress towards peace so long as Tony Blair remains prime minister. He was re-elected with only 35 % of the popular vote and barely a fifth of the overall electorate - the lowest percentage secured by any governing party in recent European history. Britain is undergoing a crisis of representation: a majority of the population opposed the war in Iraq; a majority favours withdrawing British troops; 66% believe that the attacks on London were a direct result of Blair's decision to send troops to Iraq. All good reasons why we march and demand an end to war, occupation and terror on Saturday.
· Tariq Ali is a vice-president of the Stop the War Coalition, whose peace and liberty demonstration will take place in London tomorrow; his new book, Rough Music:Blair/Bombs/Baghdad/London/Terror, is published by Verso next month.
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