Iraq war veteran condemns occupation

Issue 

"The only way this war will end is if we end it" — this was the central point of a talk by Matt Howard to an audience of around 100 people at the University of Sydney on August 14. Howard, a former soldier and a member of the US-based group Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), was in Sydney as part of a national speaking tour.

He explained that 70% of people in the US oppose the war, and a growing number of veterans are joining the movement for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq. "[Neither major party in the US] has a serious plan for withdrawal. The Democrats have betrayed us", he said. The Democrats failed to deliver on their anti-war mandate after the 2006 Congressional elections and had approved all the funds requested by the Bush administration for the war.

Howard served in Iraq during the initial invasion, and then again a year later. "Make no mistake, [the invasion] was an act of aggression. The initial phase set the tone for the rest of the war. We are not there to liberate Iraq or give humanitarian aid." "This war is about oil", Howard told the crowd.

He gave a graphic account of the horrors of the Iraq war: civilian buses attacked by US forces during his first tour; the use of "weapons free" zones where soldiers are ordered to use overwhelming firepower against any person regardless of whether they are armed; the use of ammunition tipped with depleted uranium — "the Agent Orange of Iraq".

Basic services in Iraq "are pretty much non-existent". "Hospitals have been turned into morgues. People are starving because they can't leave their houses. Kids are not going to school."

An estimated 40,000 US soldiers are now AWOL. Howard explained that the US army is failing to meet its recruitment goals because of opposition to the war, and soldiers are being returned for their third and fourth tours.

IVAW is making "serious headway" campaigning for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, for reparations to be paid to Iraq and for free health care for US soldiers. The message that the group gives to soldiers is that they have the right and obligation to disobey illegal orders.

Howard concluded by saying: "The world is against this war. You have to kick [PM John] Howard out and get [Australian] troops out. That would put Bush more out on his own. And that would help a lot."