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It’s six years on since the invasion of Iraq, the war has ended, and troops are coming home. Success? Well, we’re not celebrating. We’ve been campaigning for this result but no one is hailing it a victory to the movement.
I was reminded why the end of the war is not much to cheer about when I attended a talk by fellow Hastings peace activist John Lynes, who at 80 has just returned from Kurdistan after spending the best part of a harsh winter out there with the Christian Peacemaker Team.
John reported on visiting Kurdish villages close to Iraq’s borders which experience regular bombardment by Turkish aircraft and Iranian rockets. He explained that the Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without a country of their own, and how they form oppressed minorities in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.
Until now I haven’t been very aware of the Kurds; that they were forcibly moved by Saddam Hussein, and had poison gas used against them in the 1980s; or of the Arabs who were moved by Saddam from Baghdad to the North and are now also displaced and living in refugee camps.
There are still 20-year-old landmines in Kurdistan which haven’t been cleared; apparently it’s considered pointless as the area is still being bombarded by Turkey and Iran who claim villagers are shielding the Kurdish guerrillas, the PKK.
Refugees live in tents during the very hard winters with whipping cold winds and subzero conditions. Many Kurds are promised compensation by the government but never receive it. High illiteracy means it’s difficult for villagers to lobby political representatives.
I started to feel that sense of despair we all sometimes have when examining the intricacies of the situation in Iraq. It appears such a complicated helpless situation which is going to take a long time to resolve.
The invasion of Iraq rescued Iraqi Kurds from persecution by Saddam Hussein but has led to the fighting of internal factions made worse by the presence of foreign troops. However these foreign forces are actually adding a degree of protection to the Iraqi Kurds, it’s certainly a “rock and a hard place” situation.
John explained that areas of Kurdistan are highly prized as they contain resources of oil and during the partition of the Middle East by the Western alliance after the Second World War, oil-rich areas of Kurdistan were made part of Iraq in order to make exporting oil easier.
John urged us to campaign against the export of arms to the Middle East and curtail our dependence on Middle Eastern oil: “there’s blood in the petrol pump”.
I felt more optimistic when I thought about the action plan for campaigning. The majority of people in this country are opposed to the arms trade; these are the people who were out on the streets protesting six years ago. They are the 52% of the population who opposed the invasion of Iraq and are just a step away from being politically active once more. It’s worth remembering that the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq in August can be partly attributed to the consistent pressure of the peace movement.
The reign of Tony Blair will be documented in history as responsible for the mass erosion of civil liberties in this country and the farcical “war against evil” which the peace movement has done a lot to highlight and keep in the public eye. There is almost a consensus among the populace that the war on terror is about the US behaving like a schoolyard bully and the UK being the wimpish friend trailing behind.
Bush and Blair are the most satirized political figures of our time and that’s largely due to their nonsensical rhetoric on “evil”. The majority of people in this country are still saying the war was totally wrong. You can feel the potential energy of rebellion which could be harnessed through political satire and popular culture. We as a movement need to plug into that potential and remind the 52% that we came very close to stopping the UK from supporting the invasion six years ago, which could have derailed America’s plans and possibly stopped the war from happening. We did come very close to stopping the war and we did very nearly win.