Report on the International Peace Conference on Dec 10th
This was a very impressive event. There were a lot of people - Andrew Murray claimed a reasonable sounding 1400. There was a general good mood and the participants clearly represented activists in the movement. We voted for a statement with the following action points:
international demonstrations March 18-19 2006 calling for immediate withdrawal of troops & end of occupation.
campaign for international public inquiry into assault on Fallujah, use of chemical weapons.
support for military family campaigns.
international coordination for further events.
campaign against privatisation of Iraqi oil.
oppose attacks on Iran, Syria.
The speeches were good in a 'rally' kind of way. The stand out session was that of the Military Family Campaigns: Reg Keys and Rose Gentle as impressive as ever, Cindy Sheehan even more so, and there were more bereaved families and ex-soldiers as well. They generally spoke with a simplicity and straightforwardness that was very moving. The emphasis that the Conference gave to the Military Family Campaigns from both sides of the Atlantic was impressive.
The Muslim contributions were very good as well. Sheikh Hussein al Zagani from the Sadr movement wasn't allowed a visa, which was a real shame - just to see what he what he would have said about the rather complex politics of Al Sadr!), but Ayatollah Khalisi from the Iraqi Foundation Congress spoke very well, clearly, with dignity and good logical progression, and a clear distancing from 'terrorism' in the context of support for the resistance. Dr Tamimi from the MAB and Ishmael Patel from the Friends of al Aqsa also made impressive contributions.
Other good speakers included Phyllis Bennis from the US, Judith Leblanc from Unite For Peace and Justice (UFPJ) (which made me wonder if 'International ANSWER' had been invited, especially in the light of the fractious nature of the relationship between the two groups and the emphasis on the need for unity) and Craig Murray - very forthright. Sami Ramadami and Tariq Ali made typically powerful speeches; Ramadami on the need to expose the 'big lie' that the Iraqis would descend into civil war with the end of occupation; Tariq more focussed on the evils of the media (but typically told us from his chats with senior figures in the Cuban CP that they and the Venezuelan leadership are following events on big maps of Iraq with great interest). Wolfgang Walter got a heroes reception. Jeremy Corbyn was very good and, as ever, George Galloway gives a great speech. Among the things Galloway had to say: don't be confused by worker communist parties who are giving effective cover to an attack on Iran; don't go to Iraq as its a war-zone and make the local elections of 2006 a referendum on the occupation.
Less effective speeches came from Dario Fo (he was rudely ignored by much of the audience, still over-excited from the previous session), Paul Ingram from the Greens, who predicted a new cold war over oil resources. I hope Kate Hudson is right that the allegations about Iran's nuclear programme being false are true, but strongly agree that they are being used to build a case for an attack. Bruce Kent told us to 'make the impossible possible'. I couldn't really hear the Billy Hayes (CWU) speech, but did catch him saying that those saying 'make links with Iraqi trade unions' were missing the point (which reminded me to wonder what had happened to those making links, etc.). I didn't really share the (hysterical) enthusiasm for John Rees' speech in which he said 'we' were forcing the evolution of withdrawal/drawdown strategies and ended with a quote from the Gettysburg Address.
I think 'conference' was a bit of a misnomer: 'show' would have been more appropriate, a very good show, but still a show, with the emphasis on barn-storming speeches getting suitably enthusiastic receptions. I joined in the enthusiasm for the plain speaking folk from the military families. There was no room for engagement between different ideas. People said different things (Tariq Ali thinks there's no possibility of invasion of Iran, George Galloway said we'd already ensured Britain wouldn't take part in any invasion of Iran or Syria; Ayatollah Khalisi thinks there are Iraqi 'terrorists' attacking people indiscriminately, Sami Ramadami seems to think that all the terrorist violence is a 'Phoenix programme' of occupation-backed death-squads. There were a total of 5 'on-message' contributions from the floor - in 10 hours!
We had some votes, but with Andrew Murray chairing there was only the opportunity to vote for various statements, no call was made for any votes against or even to abstain. I thought the statement was fine, but Andrew started off by saying there wouldn't be any amendments, but at the end it was announced that an additional point had been added (point 6 above). We started with a vote about the hostage situation, voting to demand the release of illegally detained prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq, but 'urging' the release of the hostages. A couple of the American speakers referred to the previous days harassment and arrest of Brian Haw in Parliament Square and called for us to all go over and see what they would do with 1400 people. This call to direct action was lost in a rather sotto voce announcement of something happening on the Sunday.
I also think the composition was a weakness. Everywhere I looked I saw the SWP. It's a kind of magic eye effect, look into the crowd in any direction and the SWP cadre would come into sharp focus. Was this an optical illusion? The problem is that the SWP, while they would have been the main group of people building the event are only a component of the movement, here, they might have been a minority but they were the only significant organised political force there and it had many of the characteristics of how they work their 'fronts' . There wasn't a predominance of SWP speakers, but the event was clearly shaped to reflect SWP priorities and unity is uniformity.
Overall - I'm generally allergic to political hype and hysteria and there was a lot of that. I don't see it as a 'turning point' - that will depend on what people do in the context of a movement which has objectively declined in its ability to mobilise people (in this country) - but just bringing US activists and Iraqis together in the same room was impressive and important. Let's see how big we can make March 18th.
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