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Report on Voices Conference


Coalition News.

Bulletin of the Coalition Against Sanctions and War on Iraq

c/o Bridge 5 Mill, 22a Beswick Street, Ancoats, Manchester, UK.

e-mail:   Tel: 0161 286 7950

Arrow/Voices in the Wilderness Conference with Ryan and Kelly Amundson

 This is a report of the first day of the Conference.

 The opening speaker was Milan Rai – War Plan Iraq

 The main focus of the speech was when is Bush likely to attack Iraq.  Milan argued that sanctions would be lifted at the end of May so that Bush has a context of humanitarian propaganda to gain popular support for military action to remove Saddam.

It seems likely now that it will be Iraq rather than Somalia as the Enron crisis derailed plans to attack Somalia.  The focus has shifted away substantially from any attempt to capture and bring Bin Laden to trial.  This early focus is now buried.  The new focus is on equating state-sponsored terrorism with weapons of mass destruction in the public mind to provide a rationale for bringing Iraq into the frame.  The evidence to link the two is an alleged meeting between M.Atta and an Iraqi diplomat in Prague in 2001 where terrorist activities were supposedly discussed.  However, the Telegraph newspaper reports that there are no existing documents, visas etc., which suggest that Atta visited Prague on the date, in question.  The Iraqi diplomat met a man who looked like M.Atta.  This convenient evidence (for the US war machine) appears to be based on a case of mistaken identity.  No doubt the US will present the ‘facts’ as it suits them.

 Baghdad is clearly feeling under pressure and has been making moves towards negotiation.  A report by the CIA calls for negotiation as the most successful means of gaining entry to inspect weapons sites.  But, the US appears determined to take military action saying, “it has enough reason to believe Iraq is involved in terrorism”.  However, under international law, the US does not have a legal mandate to attack. Reasons are not enough.  This won’t make any difference.  The question is not whether but when.

 There are various problems associated with the timing of the attack.  Logistical problems such as where to base troops, reactions of surrounding countries and climate.  The aim is for a low cost, speedy assault with minimum American casualties.  The weather is best for an attack in October this year.  It has also been suggested that Bush has to attack before his next ‘State of the Union’ address in July, to save face, following his ‘Axis of Evil’ speech at the last ‘State of the Union’ address.  It is also possible that a weapon’s inspection crisis will be engineered at the end of May 2002 to provide a basis for attack – this currently seems the most likely scenario (although the Telegraph puts the date as late as 2005).

 The next question is what is the aim of military action in terms of the Iraqi power structure.  Washington do not want a change of regime, they want only to change the leadership of the Iraqi inner circle of power.  A change of regime would have the most benefit for the people of Iraq and would increase democracy in the region but would upset surrounding countries eg. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait, who do not want increased democracy.  Washington will not want to upset its friends, as it will need bases for action.  The plan put forward by the Iraqi National Congress is unlikely to be implemented as it involves regime change.  Most probably, the US will not strike against the Republican Guard but will manipulate them to guard against regime change.  The plan is to increase instability in the country and use existing groups (eg. Kurds) against Saddam.  There is a possibility that 50,000 US troops will be sent in for a massive attack on Baghdad.

 Nuclear weapons may be used.  President Carter promised in 1995, not to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state.  The Under-defence Sec of the US has said recently “this promise is rendered obsolete by Sept 11th”.

 Consequences for the Iraqi people depend on the length of the action and the level of force.  Iraq is a semi-industrialised state heavily dependent on electrical power.  A missile attack on a power plant would take down the national grid.  Sanctions mean the technical equipment does not exist to repair the damage.  The UN Sec General has warned that a US raid of this nature would cripple the Iraqi people and result in a massive humanitarian crisis.

 Second session:  Since Sept 11th With Ryan Amundson and Kelly Campbell – brother and sister-in-law of Craig Amundson, killed in the Pentagon on 11th September

 Ryan spoke first saying that war is an unacceptable way to bring peace.  The US military are saying that a peaceful world can be built on a vision of justice achievable by military means.  But war merely rationalises the death of innocent people in the name of justice.  The US intervention in the World War Two is often cited as an example of using war as a tool for peace.  He has been asked what use non-violent action would have been then.  He argues that World War Two was a consequence of World War One – which itself was “the war to end all wars”.  He also argues that state centred Nazism is not analogous to a decentralised terrorist network.  The US uses military force as a general-purpose tool to fit all problems.  The military is packaged and sold as a product to the American people.  Therefore he went with members of his family to Afghanistan to see and tell stories to the American people about the real casualties of American action.  He finished by quoting Ghandi “War is a poor chisel for carving peaceful tomorrows”.

 Kelly said she was an ordinary American on Sept 10th.  At 7.15 the next day, her life changed forever.  Craig had a daughter, aged two, Charlotte.  Kelly contrasted Charlotte’s response to the death of her father to the responses of Afghani children to the bombing.  Charlotte has had support and gifts from all over the world.  In comparison, a six year old Afghani boy who saw his friend blown apart by a cluster bomb fragment, shakes constantly and does not speak.  He does not have any access to mental health facilities or, indeed, any other form of support apart from his traumatised, impoverished family.  He and his dead friend are collateral damage.

 Charlotte’s importance in the eyes of the US military is a propaganda tool to justify the deaths of Afghani people and the expansion of the war.  Kelly spoke, movingly, about a trip to the park with Charlotte who had not spoken about her father’s death previously.  Charlotte looked at her feet, and said “My daddy used to take me here.  A plane hit my daddy’s work and he couldn’t get out”.  Kelly, in tears, said, “How can I ever explain to Charlotte what they are doing because her daddy didn’t get out?” 

 She also told us about a woman, Arifa, she met in Afghanistan whose five children and husband had been murdered by the bombing.  She is left destitute, with no way of providing for her remaining children.  This woman had a friend who wrote a letter for her, in English, saying:

 Dear Americans

 I know you did not mean to kill my children and my husband.  I know the bombs were not meant for us.  I know you came to get rid of the Taliban, that you want to help women and that you are my friend.  Because you are my friend, would you help me now?

 She took the letter to the American Embassy in Afghanistan.  The soldier at the gates refused to take the letter and told her “Go away. We don’t want beggars here”

 Kelly and Ryan are currently trying to set up an Afghan victims fund to pay compensation to victims of the bombing.  She believes that American people do care, but that important information is hidden from them and their horror at Sept 11th and loyalty to their country is being manipulated to further the aims of the US government.  The US government is taking no responsibility for clearing the unexploded cluster bombs (in attractive, yellow packages), which maim and kill the children looking for toys in the fields.

 Workshop – Direct Action in Palestine – Kathryn Tulip

 This workshop concentrated on the action taken by an international group of activists who went to Palestine to show support to Palestinian people by removing road blockades and taking part in a demonstration.  There was also some discussion about the nature of Zionism.

 Comments on the Day

 The main strength of the day was the talk by Ryan and Kelly.  They were able, through the immediacy of their personal experience, to reach the audience when, sadly, we have all become somewhat hardened to tales of pain and horror.  Craig was a military man.  Politically, his family has come a long way since September 11th in a hostile climate.

 The weakness of the day was the complete failure to advertise the national demonstration on March 2nd, organised by the Coalition to Stop the War and supported by CND.  There was a request that people attending the Conference sign a pledge to take non-violent direct action but this seemed to be as an alternative action network, not as part of the Coalition.  The Coalition was not mentioned verbally or on any publicity and did not appear to be viewed as an active force.  How much more powerful would have been Kelly and Ryan as speakers if they had spoken to an audience of thousands on March 2nd, not 50 people in a room in the East End?

 There was also no discussion of the wider political and economic context in which events such as those in Iraq and Palestine are taking place, without which events appear as isolated incidents.  Consequently, many questions were not asked.  For example, the reasoning behind the massive increase on defence spending on the part of the US resulting in the continued drive and expansion of increasing militarisation by the most powerful nation in the world, the effect of this on American cultural ideology, the participation of the UK in military action, remained unaddressed. Perhaps some of these issues will be addressed on day two of the conference but both Ros Arnold and I felt that day one, as a basis for informing action and building a broad movement was unsatisfactory.

 Heather Rose

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