More Australian troops to Iraq sharpens opposition to this war
Pip Hinman in Sydney
John Howard's decision to send 450 more cavalry, infantry and training troops to
southern Iraq in the face of majority opposition here, adds political urgency to
going all out in the remaining few weeks to build the March 18-20 "Troops out"
Howard's reasons for sending more troops ("help reconstruct Iraq", "support
democracy" etc) are aimed at those who didn't support the war but are in two
minds about what should happen now. However, the polls and Australian Labor
Party leader Kim Beazley's less than enthusiastic response suggests that there
is widespread opposition to this move.
A Channel Ten telephone poll showed 71% opposed to the extra troop commitment,
the same results as other polls taken over the last few days. In addition, the
military head of the Australian intervention during the Vietnam War,
Major-General (retired) Alan Stretton, warned that Iraq is shaping up as another
Vietnam, and said that Japan should pay for Australia to protect its troops.
Whether this translates into action by the ALP remains to be seen. Beazley's
recent statement about which Australian troops should stay and which should
leave is having it both ways.
"We say the sailors and airmen stay. We say in Iraq itself the soldiers who are
protecting our diplomats - they should stay," said Beazley on February 23. "We
say that the soldiers who are currently doing logistics, planning and the like
for the coalition perhaps should do that for the United Nations to encourage
them to stay and make a contribution. The rest, the Government ought to be
Beazley also said that the government should be focusing on the South East Asian
region rather than Iraq.
We know that what Socialist Alliance does in the next few weeks to harness
support for the March protests will be critical.
The more liberal-minded section of the mass anti-war movement of 2003 - the
largest section - has taken a back seat largely because it became demoralised
that the government went to war after the huge protests in February of that
year. The other reason is that the organising structures of the anti-war
movement are still too narrow given that the traditional structures - the trade
unions and churches
- haven't been prepared to take part. Given this, the mood that protests don't
and cannot have a real impact on governmental decisions becomes self-fulfilling.
The fact that the Greens are the only parliamentary party to maintain the call
for all Australian troops to come home, the task of building the anti-war
movement has come down to the far left together with some Greens in some cities
and some very active left independents.
There is no easy way around this - and we feel it at a stark level inside
anti-war coalitions and local peace groups in which Socialist Alliance member
are playing critical organising roles.
But we mustn't lose sight of the fact that all the polls still show majority
opposition to the war, to the February 22 troop announcement. The Howard
government has been hugely discredited over its lies about the reasons for going
to war, about its knowledge of the torture of prisoners of war, and the
treatment meted out to Mamdouh Habib (and David Hicks).
This mass dissent can and does spur on new generations to get active. In Sydney
a new group - Students against War - held a successful action outside ANZ bank
(one of the war profiteers) during the campus holidays, and is now preparing for
a large public meeting with John Pilger on March 10 at Sydney University. In
other cities too young people are again starting to organise - their aim against
the war profiteers.
However, reports from some cities indicate that Socialist Alliance members have
had to struggle to get the main anti-war coalitions to agree to even mark the
second anniversary of the invasion.
In Adelaide, NoWar was finally persuaded to call a protest after some young
activists from the Student Activist Alliance and Resistance went to a meeting
and made their case. The result will be a protest outside defence minister
Robert Hill and foreign minister Alexander Downer's office in central Adelaide
on March 20.
In Melbourne, the newly-formed Stop the War Coalition is organising the rally
and march on March 18, at which the featured speakers will be Andrew Wilke
(Greens, ex Office of National Assessments) and Kevin Bracken from Maritime
Union of Australia. The protest will march past a couple of war profiteers in
the city. The Victorian Peace Network, which is currently having discussions
about its role in the anti-war movement, has been approached by the StWC to
provide a speaker.
Canberra ACTNOW is organising a protest for March 19, and is approaching a range
of speakers including a Uniting Church minister, one of the senior bureaucrats
who have spoken the truth about the torture, the Greens and others.
Darwin NoWar is supporting a Church-based action on March 18, at which they will
have a display board, an information stall and plant crosses in Raintree Park.
They have also called a rally and speak-out for March 20. But with the 450
troops largely leaving from Darwin in 10 weeks they will get another opportunity
Perth NoWar have had their hands full with a state election campaign, and are
planning to use polling day on February 26 to promote the March 20 action. The
protest has been timed to fit into the lunch break of the Perth Social Forum
being held that day in Fremantle. Andrew Wilkie from the Greens will be the
A couple of successful actions initiated by Resistance outside an ANZ bank in
Perth at which police and Tactical Response Group heavyhandiness was witnessed
by passers-by, including journalists, has also helped raise the profile of the
Perth NoWar is also planning to host Terry Hicks in April, and the WA Peace
Network is hosting Tariq Ali in May. NoWar is also talking to WAPN about being
involved in a debate in March/April about the aftermath of the Iraqi election
and the response of the peace movement.
The Hobart Peace Coalition has been debating the call for the troops to come
out, and at its last meeting a majority voted against making it. (This
discussion took place before the government's announcement.) Agreed was the
theme: "Two years too many", but SA members have drafted up and will be arguing
for the addition of "End the occupation, troops out now".
The Newcastle NoWar Collective will hold a rally on M20 starting in Wheeler
Place. They are planning a "scumbag tour" down Hunter Street where a number of
war profiteers have their offices including ANZ and Monsanto. Nico Leka says
they are planning to begin the rally recalling the disgraceful episodes in Iraq,
including details that "they" would rather we forget such as the siege of Najaf,
the abuse at Abu Ghraib, and the chemical weapons used on Fallujah. At the
rally's end, in Pacific Park, they will analyse what the shame elections and
current trends in US foreign policy mean.
In Sydney, the Stop the War Coalition tried to negotiate with the Sydney Peace
and Justice Coalition about organising a joint event, knowing that they would
want to organise an event for Palm Sunday. After an initial positive meeting,
SPJC decided against it, and unfortunately will be organising a separate event
in the western suburbs of Sydney. This will make it a harder to get support from
unions, although SA members in the National Tertiary Education Union at the
University of NSW recently successfully put a motion supporting M20 and giving
Even with keynote speakers such as John Pilger building for M20 has been slow to
get going. However, Howard's announcement is sure to speed things up, especially
if we can find ways of capitalising on the opposition to the extra troops.
Wollongong NoWar will organise a couple of speak-out stalls to promote the
Sydney rally at Hyde Park, and organise for activists to come up together in a
In Sydney, local peace groups, some of which are being revived by SA members,
are doing their bit to revitalise the networks and organise anti-war supporters
to do a little more.
The SA national office is planning to issue a new colour leaflet in time for the
M18-20 protests, which will highlight SA's opposition to the war, our
involvement in the movement, as well as other critical issues facing
progressives under a fourth-term Howard government.
Howard under fire for 'duping' voters in The Australian
Statement from the ALP
Pip Hinman is a central activist in the Sydney Stop The War Coalition and a
national convenor of the Socialist Alliance’s anti-war working group. This
article was written for the Socialist Alliance national newsletter, Socialist