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NOTES ON LONDON INTERVIEWS WITH IRAQIS RE PEACE PROCESS
By Tom Hayden
PEACE PROCESS NOTES #1
NOTES ON LONDON INTERVIEWS WITH IRAQIS RE PEACE PROCESS.
The National Foundation Congress (NFC), a coalition of 20 Iraqi political parties and organizations opposed to the occupation, was formed in April 2004. Since its second Congress in May 2005 the group has begun seeking contact with Western anti-war networks, including journalists and officials.
I met in London Sept. 28 with two Iraqis who work closely with the international network, who explained the Congress' agenda and goals.
They are two years on the ground, I was told, and now seek a voice on the outside of Iraq. They are not a street-based organization but effective at peacemaking bridges within the country. To counter the divide-and-rule strategy of the occupiers, they attempt to cross ethnic and sectarian lines in order to rebuild a nationalist and united Iraqi state.
They see themselves as the political wing of the resistance, which they define on three levels: the armed resistance, the political resistance and the community resistance against sectarianism.
They include the Association of Muslim Scholars and have productive links with Moktada Al-Sadr's movement. They boycotted the January 2005 elections and have refused so far to meet with any American or British officials.
In general summary, these are their demands [see also Le Monde, Sept. 17, 2005].
First, there must be a schedule of US withdrawal from the occupation.
Second, the US must hand over the agenda to an international body including the United Nations, Islamic countries and the Arab League [no one from the occupation forces] that creates an interim or transitional security force. The same body or contact group should take over economic reconstruction.
Third, there should be internationally-supervised elections.
Fourth, the Iraqi state and army should be rebuilt with the aid of Arab and Islamic countries.
Any interim government would have to be rebranded as a caretaker and technical one. ["mettre les competences nationales sous la supervision de l'ONU au service du pays, et non plus des politicians"].
"The people who came with the tanks [the upper levels of the current regime] will have to leave with the tanks."
These Iraqis reviewed the American "people's petition for a peace process" and found it compatible with their efforts to end the conflict. They also indicated general support for proposals by Russia and France for an international conference which would include representatives of the resistance. Further, they volunteered interest in learning more about the South African transitional model.
REPORT FROM LONDON:
Public opinion is strongly for withdrawal [30 percent for "now", 27 percent "by Christmas", 25 percent in "one year", the rest for "stay the course".
Blair remains adamantly pro-Bush and anti the anti-war movement, dismissing them as "urban intellectuals." His political strategy resembles Richard Nixon in the late Sixties: calling for "law and order" after the London bombings, attacking the peace movement as soft intellectuals, appealing to "the heartland", his version of "middle America."
However, there is a parallel agenda from the "securocrats" [elements of the intelligence agencies and ministry of defense] that hints at British withdrawal earlier than officially projected. On Sept. 24, the Saturday of the London march, the Observer headlines read:
"Defence Secretary confident withdrawal will start in May/ Plan follows pressure for exit strategy"
"BRITAIN SETS IRAQI PULL-OUT DATE AS BLAIR SAYS 'DON'T FORCE ME TO QUIT'"
Clearly this story/leak was intended to defuse or confuse public opinion on the weekend of the protests. But its detail contained a ring of truth. Assuming no radical changes in the situation on the ground, the Observer account is as follows:
1. Blair "has abandoned plans...to public his own exit strategy." His envoy to Iraq last week warned that Britain could be forced out if there is "no reasonable prospect of holding it together."
2. Secret exit strategy plans are being negotiated by a commission composed of the Iraqi government, US and UK diplomats and military commanders.
3. This commission will lay out a point-by-point road map for military disengagement by the US-UK coalition, with the first steps soon after the December elections.
4. The withdrawal will be locally-staged depending on assessments of the security situation, in three stages. The first phase would take 12 months with British troops ending up as a "reserve force." The second phase would terminate daily patrols and place British troops in barracks. The third phase would be the departure of the troops altogether, apparently in the same time framework.
Fantasy? Quite likely. Aimed at quieting the British public? Definitely. But it also appears that the British government is fashioning a phased exit strategy designed by the Ministry of Defence while Blair himself remains "firm." The question is whether the British securocrats are simply posturing to protect Blair's image of manly strength, or whether they are implementing a withdrawal plan for their own strategic reasons, with Blair's tacit consent.
This is not the first hint of British disengagement. The British foreign minister said last April that troop withdrawals might begin in 2006. In July the British media said their government might withdraw 3,000 troops from Iraq to the "international peacekeeping mission" in Afghanistan.
FYI: UK forces in Iraq are 8,000 currently. Poland, which operates in Basra as well, has reduced its forces from 2,400 to 1,700 and plans a 2006 withdrawal. Thailand, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Norway withdrew early in 2005. Ukraine is out. Portugal out. Spain, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua all out. The pattern is clear on the ground, a slow but steady reduction in troop levels, leaving the US and some 20,000 stateless mercenaries.
Neither the peace movement nor progressive British politicians have proposed an alternative scenario for ending both the war and occupation. The Independent on Sept. 25 ran an editorial headlined "We have a duty to Iraq - to make plans for an early exit", which concluded that "the absence of an exit strategy leaves a dangerous sense of drift. [Blair's] only hope of retrieving any honour from the flames of Basra is to set out the practical steps that need to be taken to make the withdrawal of British forces possible sooner rather than later."
SPEECH TO PEACE RALLY:
I want to ask Tony Blair a question. In 2003 he visited the US Congress and laid out this vision - "I know it's hard on America, and in some corner of this vast country, out in Nevada or Idaho or these places I've never been to, but always wanted to go...I know out there there's a guy getting on with his life, perfectly happy, minding his own business, saying to you the political leaders of this country, 'Why me? And why us? And why America? And the only answer is that DESTINY put you in this place in history, in this moment in time, and the task is yours to do.' "
DESTINY? I looked into the impact of Iraq on Nevada and Idaho in case Mr. Blair never has the chance to visit. Twenty six citizens of Nevada and Idaho have died so far in Iraq - taking population into account, that is the equivalent of some 400 British fatalities, or four times the current number of one hundred British casualties. The cost of Iraq to Nevada and Idaho taxpayers is $2.3 billion, which would pay for 110,000 four year university scholarships in those two small states.
DESTINY? The destiny of Nevada, Idaho and the rest of my country has been to die for imperial deceptions, for an empire that doesn't care about sending its young soldiers to die for lies.
Fortunately Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush don't represent the people of our two countries. Thanks to your efforts, 57 percent of the British people are calling for withdrawal. So too for a majority of Iraqis, In America, according to the latest polls, a majority supports withdrawal, a majority believes that hurricane relief should be funded by cutting the budget for Iraq, and a majority think President Bush should meet with Cindy Sheehan instead of arresting her outside the White House gates.
What is there to do when majorities are abused and lied to by their own governments? History shows that people power can pull down the pillars of the policies. And what are those pillars?
First, public opinion, already against the war. Second, funding - with costs of $200 billion for hurricane relief and another $100 billion for Iraq, a showdown is mounting over Congressional funding this January. Third, soldiers - our armed forces are in a chronic recruitment crisis, with forty percent of our troops in Iraq from National Guard members who are needed at home. The final pillar is the international alliance which even a superpower needs.
I am here to ask if there can be a "special relationship" between our two movements instead of the secret special relationship between our governments, if there can be a coalition of the Unwilling to replace the coalition of the willing, to pull down the British pillar in Iraq and help force the US to withdraw. Everything you do to challenge the British government also increases the pressure on the American government.
May I also add that the British government demonized, occupied, tortured, shot, interned and waged war against nationalism in the north of Ireland for thirty years, but eventually recognized and accepted in the Good Friday Agreement the national rights of those they had oppressed. They will have no more success in the south of Iraq than the north of Ireland, nor in Basra than in Belfast. They will repeat the myopic policies of the past - Ireland was partioned in the year that Iraq was occupied - until the people of our two countries, and a global coalition for justice, forces them to learn the limits of empire once again. #