Troops out of Iraq ... and Afghanistan

Saturday, October 21, 2006

In October, ALP leader Kim Beazley sent a letter to households that expressed his support for the withdrawal of troops. Below is Beazley's letter and a reply by anti-war campaigner Pip Hinman, who argues that Australian troops shouldn't be taken out of Iraq just to be re-deployed to Afghanistan.

Troops out of Iraq ...

The following letter was distributed to households in October.

I'm writing to you because I'm sure you have strong views about the war in Iraq. So do I.

Right from the start, I was convinced John Howard was making a terrible mistake sending our troops to Iraq. And nothing that's happened since has changed that view. If anything, my conviction is stronger than ever.

I've always believed sending troops into a war zone is the most serious decision that a Prime Minister can ever make. But this Prime Minister went to war on a lie.

And now instead of coming clean and admitting he was wrong, John Howard dodges and weaves and changes his story to justify himself.

I'm sure you remember what he said first. He said we were going into Iraq to search for "weapons of mass destruction". The only problem was the weapons didn't exist.

After that it was "regime change". Well, the regime's changed and now we've ended up with a country lurching into civil war.

Then it was "to protect the Japanese". But the Japanese have gone home now.

His latest reason is something called "security overwatch" - whatever that means.

But if all this isn't serious enough, John Howard and his mates are now desperately trying to distance themselves from the $300 million Wheat for Weapons scandal.

They turned a blind eye to Australian kickbacks to Saddam that paid for the weapons used against allied troops. But rather than take the rap, they resort to shameless deception and cover up.

Ministers Downer and Vaile determined to brazen it out rather than take any responsibility for the most serious political scandal in Australia's history.

And now of course there's overwhelming evidence to support what we all believed - that the war in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism, not reduced it.

A recently publicised US intelligence report backs up what I've been saying for three years. The war in Iraq has fuelled radicalism, spawned a new generation of Islamic terrorists, and made the region less stable.

What's more, the vast majority of Australians understand this. They can see through John Howard. They know the war is wrong; that we should never have gone to Iraq in the first place, and Australia is less safe because of it.

Like me, they know John Howard has failed in his number-one job - to protect them and our country.

But unlike John Howard, I won't be failing in my job. I'll hold this arrogant, out of touch Prime Minister accountable on the wheat for weapons scandal and Australia's involvement in the war in Iraq.

I can promise you, I'll be hounding him every day until the next election.

Kim Beazley
[Kim Beazley is the leader of the Australian Labor Party.]

... and Afghanistan

This is a reply to Kim Beazley.

I'm writing to you to express my support for your call for the withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq. However, I don't think it's enough to only pull the Australian troops out of Iraq; they should also leave Afghanistan.

You argue that the war in Iraq was wrong because it was launched on false pretenses in 2003, and the occupation is making the world a more dangerous place. Not many would dispute this.

Overwhelmingly, polls now say that US, Australian and Iraqi people want the foreign troops to leave. An ACNielsen survey on October 9 found that 59% of Australians thought so. Even General Sir Richard Dannatt, the new head of the British army, admits that the foreign troops are making things worse, not better.

The main reason people want the occupation troops to leave is the growing revulsion at endless needless deaths. A mortality survey by the Johns Hopkins University released on October 11 estimated that more than 600,000 Iraqis have died since the war began - six times more the previous credible estimate published by the Lancet in 2004.

On September 28, the Washington Post published a US State Department survey of Iraqi attitudes toward the US and the war. It found that the majority blamed the US for the violence, and wanted the troops to leave. Another poll, from the University of Maryland, published the next day, said 61% of Iraqis support attacks on US troops.

John Tirman from the MIT Centre for International Studies, and one of the mortality survey's authors, concluded: "The Iraqi attitudes are difficult to grasp unless the violence people suffer is an enormous, daily threat to them." His assessment too is that foreign troops in Iraq are making things worse.

But how different is this scenario to what's happening in Afghanistan? Violence is on the rise there, as are civilian deaths: more than 1600 Afghans have died there in the last four months.

You are on record as saying that Afghanistan is "terrorism central", that it is generating more al Qaeda terrorists and, therefore, that is where the Australian troops should be deployed in even greater numbers. You have never provided any evidence to back up this claim, which even the experts seem to disagree with.

In an unusually candid media conference, an Australian SAS commander recently admitted that Australian troops hardly ever came into combat with al Qaeda fighters; rather, they were fighting impoverished Afghan youths who had taken up arms after becoming increasingly angry that the much promised aid and reconstruction has failed to materialise.

You want Australian troops to leave Iraq - to be redeployed in Afghanistan. Five years on from the invasion of Afghanistan, which was also launched on false pretences, the US- and NATO-led forces face mounting resistance, especially in the south and south-east of the country. Rising anger at the corruption and repressiveness of warlords and drug lords, some of whom have been incorporated into the US-backed Hamid Karzai government, is driving locals to team up with the Taliban and other militia to oppose the foreign troops.

Just like in Iraq, how will an increase in troop numbers help stem the violence? And isn't it the case that extremist ideology is more likely to flourish where there's scarcity?

Afghans are mired in terrible poverty; its social indices are among the worst in the world. Life expectancy is just 44.5 years. One-fifth of children die before reaching the age of five. Around 72,000 new cases of tuberculosis are reported every year. Epidemics, including measles, malaria, meningitis and haemorrhagic fever, occur frequently. The World Food Program estimates that at least 6.5 million of the country's population of 21-26 million is dependent on food aid for survival.

Since the extreme right-wing Islamist Taliban regime was ousted in late 2001, Afghanistan is once again the world's biggest supplier of opium - another indicator of extreme poverty.

Surely there are now enough facts to conclude that all wars of occupation generate greater insecurity and greater instability. The logic of the Labor Party's argument about why foreign troops should leave Iraq surely also applies to Afghanistan. Foreign troops must leave: Afghans, like Iraqis, have a right to decide how to run their country's affairs.

We do not oppose these wars of occupation just because they were wrong to start with, or because they haven't been victorious. We oppose them because the justification for waging them - the so-called war on terror - is a sham, something that the investigation into the Australian Wheat Board's kickbacks to Saddam Hussein regime well and truly exposed.

The real reasons for Australia being in Iraq and Afghanistan are market share and profits, not the eradication of dictators. Canberra's ongoing meddling, along with its allies in Washington and London, in the affairs of sovereign countries is helping to create a new set of tyrants.

Your call for troops to come out of Iraq is welcome, but to be consistent against the unjust wars today, you should also oppose the war of occupation in Afghanistan.

Pip Hinman

[Pip Hinman is an activist in the Sydney Stop the War Coalition and is contesting the seat of Marrickville for the Socialist Alliance in the March 2007 NSW election.]

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