Iraq Occupation Focus conference

Jim Jepps


Around 200 people attended the second international teach In organised by Iraq Occupation Focus.

Once again the conference was marked by its level of diverse and well informed debate. It's a real pleasure to take part in a full discussion where you don't feel the speakers have been hand picked to reinforce the organisers view of the world. When the debates became sharp, particularly from the eye witnesses and Iraqi speakers, there was a real frisson generated by the depth of knowledge and passion assembled in the room.

There was a lively debate between Gilbert Achcar, and Iraqi-born novelist Haifa Zangana about the nature of the Iraqi resistance, and valuable insights from Rahul Mahajan, publisher of Empire Notes blog ( who has visited Iraq, and reported on the insurgency.

Many of these debates, far from being left in the air, as if we simply agreed to disagree, were genuinely grappled with. There were reports on women's rights, and human rights violations, both from the occupiers and regrettably from the insurgency. The conference heard from Ismael Dawood, a human rights activist from Baghdad, who only managed to get to the conference after the intervention of John McDonnell MP to secure him a visa.

There was also a discussion of the corporate plundering of Iraq, including the ever interesting academic Kemil Mehdi and Hassan Juma, (President, General Union of Oil Employees, Basra).

The event was very informative, and was enriched by the presence of several activists who had travelled to it specially from Iraq. I found the eyewitness accounts from Fallujah particularly moving of course but it was the raising of the bar of our understanding of what happening in Iraq that was the conference's most important contribution.

Although there was spread of activists it was notable that there was no one there from the SWP, which is a shame as there does need to be a serious debate about the future of the anti war movement, and without the SWP and other Respect members in the room a valuable component of the anti-war movement is lost to that discussion.

Liz Davies said of the event that "We were privileged to be able to listen to a real breadth of speakers, who had direct knowledge of events in Iraq. Hassan Juma'a, President of the Oil Employees Federation in Iraq, spoke of the oil workers' struggle for workers' rights, and keeping the oil resources in the hands of the Iraqi people. Ismaeel Dawood from Baghdad described the abuses of human rights at the hands of the occupying forces. The room was silent as a representative from International Peace Angels described her work bringing medical supplies into besieged Fallujah. The teach-in brought together testimony from Iraqis, from independent journalists and NGOs working in Iraq, and Iraqi solidarity groups in this country. Their experiences and analysis provides the campaign for a withdrawal of British troops and an end to the occupation with an essential boost and keeps us well-informed."

It's clear that the movement needs far more than slogans and marches, no matter how important these things are in their place, and Iraq Occupation Focus is doing its best to at least fill part of that gap.

December 2005

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