Sydney's walk against war

Sharan Burrow, Pat Power, Judy Davis, Kassim Abood, John Pilger & Rawan Abdul Nabi.

War is not the answer!

Sharan Burrow

Australians for peace - I salute you! The ACTU strongly opposes a unilateral declaration and Australian involvement in a war on Iraq. The ACTU condemns terrorist acts wherever they occur - such monstrous acts take human lives and cannot be accepted but war is not the answer.

The threat of a pre-emptive strike by the USA, seemingly supported by the Australian government, contravenes international law, is a threat to world peace and must be resisted by the UN Security Council. To hear Robert Hill call for reform of international law to "legalise" pre-emptive strikes as an act of perceived self defence was shocking: to hear this morning our Prime Minister endorse this call is to back a new era of lawlessness, threaten global security and flirt recklessly with basic human rights, is simply unacceptable.

People ask me why the unions would get involved in this debate. The answer is simple - it is working men and women and their children who bear the brutal brunt of war. Economies are destroyed, jobs are lost and families dislocated, wounded and killed. Peace has always been a union issue.

We know that nearly 50 per cent of the population of Iraq is under 14 years and up to a million families are already displaced. Save the Children Fund reports that there is widespread suffering with malnourishment endemic. This is the leftover from the previous war and any attack will further exacerbate an already desperate humanitarian crisis.

Dictators who oppress their people exist in too many nations but war is not the answer, war is not the solution. The real solution is disarmament and an end to the development of all weapons of mass destruction as a first step to global security. The ACTU is strongly opposed to the development of weapons of mass destruction whether by Iraq or any other country.

UN mandated international inspection of any country stockpiling weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological or nuclear - whether Iraq, USA, North Korea, Russia or any other nation would significantly contribute to global peace and security. This should be the call of leadership from our government if it were genuinely dedicated to global peace and security.

The ACTU is deeply concerned that the unrelenting talk of war is drowning out talk of solutions for peace. Your presence here today begins to turn that around. Even Peter Gration, former defence chief, advises against a war on Iraq. He counsels that little has changed to generate such urgency and could actually "see the Muslim world united against the West and the threat from international terrorism worsened". No authority can claim there is a link between Bali and Baghdad.

I would like to finish with a call for all political leaders to avoid incitement of a climate of suspicion and fear in Australia, and to promote increased understanding of the diversity of Australian religious faiths, including Islam. Our message is a simple one: Muslim men and women - you are welcome here!

Australian unions, join with the large number of individuals, community organisations and religious communities here today to plead with all political leaders to oppose a war on Iraq. Terrorism must be stamped out but war is not the answer.

Let's talk about a war on poverty

Pat Power

Is an Iraqi life of any less value than an American or an Australian life? A US led attack on Iraq will lead to inevitable loss of life - hundreds, thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens will perish as a result of such an attack. These are people who have already suffered a great deal under a repressive regime. They have suffered mightily in the last twelve years as a result of the sanctions imposed on Iraq.

Dr Sue Wareham has given us graphic details of the effects of those sanctions. Caritas Australia has expressed great concern about the effects of a war on Iraqi women and children. They point out that already one in four children under the age of 5 is chronically malnourished. They tell us that the health service has become quite inadequate through the 12 years of sanctions. They point out that 2/3 of the population are dependent on UN food rations. In the event of war the food will be cut off and water and sanitation systems will collapse. It is obscene when so called civilised countries are able to devalue the lives of ordinary people in poorer countries.

But those of us gathered here today in such great numbers - we want something different. We want peace not war. We believe in the sisterhood and brotherhood of all humanity. We believe in the dignity of every human being. We say that instead of preparing for war, we should be searching and building for peace.

For the last year or more, we have heard a lot of rhetoric about the 'War Against Terrorism'. I suggest that we should begin talking about a War Against Poverty. The so-called 'War Against Terrorism' has resulted in a building up of hatred, fear and suspicion. It has meant a widening of the divide between "them" and "us". It has done everything to build up a climate of war.

On the other hand a War Against Poverty would entail genuine gestures of goodwill. It would mean a real effort to bring about the alleviation of poverty. It would do something to mitigate the debts of the Third World countries, the debts which are crippling the economies of those countries and demeaning their citizens.

Palestine is clearly a key to world peace. I call upon the US and its allies, through the United Nations, to adopt a more even handed approach with regard to Palestine. I say it is time that the West stopped and called Israel to account. How outrageous is the spectre of seizing the land and the homes of Palestinians, disrupting their freedom of movement, impeding them from going about their legitimate employment and most recently destroying their olive harvests. These actions need to be roundly condemned, not to mention the atrocities that have been perpetrated in Jenin, Bethlehem and Ramallah. I deplore the killing of innocent Israelis in Kenya and the suicide bombings in Israel. Clearly the cycle of violence and killing must be broken. That can only come about when there is a recognition both of Israel's right to exist and the right of Palestinians to a homeland and to self determination.

Pope John Paul II frequently states that there can be no peace without justice. The Australian Bishops recently put out a statement with regard to the possibility of war against Iraq and that statement was entitled "Build Peace, Avoid War".

I am proud to be with you all today and in a special way to stand in solidarity with the Muslim, Iraqi and Palestinian community representatives. I know it is the hope of all of us that, what we model today, will become a reality in the wider world, so that there will be genuine peace and a recognition of the dignity and rights of all people.

The moral abyss

Judy Davis

I remember my horror the day of the US military attacked the retreating the Iraqi army on the road from Mutta Kuwait, to Basra, Iraq. The war had been won, Saddam Hussein had announced a complete troop withdrawal from Kuwait in compliance with UN Resolution 660, and a defeated, starving army was making its slow journey home.

The attack left more than 2000 vehicles and thousands of charred, dismembered bodies littering the 60 miles of highway. The attack was a violation of the Geneva Convention of 1949, common article 3, which outlaws the killing of soldiers who are "out of combat". No attempt was made by US military command to distinguish between military personnel and civilians.

It was as if a declaration had been made - rules of etiquette no longer apply. There will be no more discourse.

War is, of course, the ultimate failure in communication, but the West has long believed it has had the edge on civility. We can no longer take comfort in this fantasy. Those who support John Howard's easy war rhetoric, those who believe in the fantasy, should educate themselves about the society they intend to destroy.

As of early 2001, the bombardment of Iraq had lasted longer than the US invasion of Vietnam. In October 1999, American officials were telling the Wall Street Journal they would soon be running out of targets - "We're down to the last outhouse".

Iraq's levels of nutrition, schooling and public services were once well above regional standards, with a per capita GNP of over $3000. Today, courtesy of UN economic sanctions, it is under $500, making it one of the poorest societies on Earth.

A land that once had high levels of literacy and an advanced system of health care has been devastated by the West, its people are denied the basic necessities of existence, its soil is polluted by uranium-tipped warheads.

According to UN figures of 2001, some 60 per cent of the population have no regular access to clean water.

In 1997, the FAO reckoned that 27 per cent of Iraqis were suffering from chronic malnutrition, and 70 per cent of all women were anaemic.

UNICEF reports that in the southern and central regions, which contains 85 per cent of the country's population, infant mortality has doubled compared to the pre-Gulf War period. In 1997, it reported that 4500 children under the age of five were dying each month from hunger and disease.

In late 1998, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, former assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday, resigned from his post in protest against the blockade, declaring that the total deaths it had caused could be upwards of a million.

Down to the last outhouse indeed.

The majority of Australians remain unconvinced by the Howard government - the majority of Australians do not want their country responsible for any further misery and death in Iraq. I don't believe that the current fear-mongering campaign run by the government and the media will succeed. I believe that the majority of Australians are indeed a peaceful, tolerant people, that the stigmatising of Islamic Australians appalls us, that John Howard's vision of the future is utterly alien to our beliefs.

We're being told that the war is against the Iraqi regime, not the Iraqi people. I challenge Howard, therefore, to revise his views on refugees. I challenge him to justify his government's treatment of Iraqi asylum seekers. Is it possible they're still being told to go home - have we fallen into such a moral abyss?

I challenge the Labor Party politicians to be courageous, to show moral courage. The time has come for you people in public office to stop wasting your energy second-guessing the public - forget about the polls. We want to know what you actually BELIEVE in, we need to know you'll risk your political futures for what you believe in. We need tolerance, compassion, we need wisdom from you. Maybe then we'll listen to you.

I think I understand at least part of the politicians' problem. They believe we no longer have the freedom to act independently. They believe that Australia's economic survival depends on a full commitment to the American world vision. But we will not slide into the moral abyss, with blood on our hands. Mr Howard, you haven't presented us with a single compelling reason for the further slaughter of innocent people. We do not support your war in Iraq.

Oppose war and dictatorship

Kassim Abood

One of the most important consequences of the 11th September events was the launching of the so-called "international campaign against terrorism", under the slogan declared by President Bush that "those who are not with us are with terrorism".

Some of the real objectives of US war in the region are: control over Central Asia, the oil resources and creating a new balance of forces favourable to US political and economic interests. The Iraqi people once again have been caught between a dictatorial regime, which is gambling to remain in power at any cost, and a US administration determined to make Iraq the opening phase in its "pre-emptive strikes" doctrine.

The US is justifying its threats by making a connection between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Where was the US administration when Saddam Hussein terrorised, tortured and murdered thousands of Iraqi civilians? This included the use of chemical weapons against Kurdish people in Halabgha, in the north of Iraq, and the Marshland people in the south. All that happened when the regime was enjoying good relations with the US administration.

We reject the war option and foreign military intervention and its tragic consequences. Previous experiences have proved that war leaves behind death, destruction and tragedies, and does not bring about democracy.

Our rejection of war as an option does not mean at all that there is any reluctance in the determination to continue the struggle to achieve our people's salvation from the Saddam dictatorship. As Australian citizens and residents of Australia, we object to Australian participation in the American war against our people and our families.

The task of changing the regime in Iraq is a task for the Iraqi people. This could be effectively achieved with legitimate and genuine regional and international support based on mutual respect and interest and authorised by the United Nations.

We urge you to distinguish between the dictatorial regime and the people of Iraq. Oppose war and dictatorship, and support the struggle of the Iraqi patriotic and democratic opposition forces and the Iraqi people for a unified democratic and federal Iraq.

Dealing with extremists

John Pilger

Today, I am reminded of all the other great demonstrations that have happened around the world. I addressed 400,000 people in the centre of London at the end of September. In Washington there have been something like 200 demonstrations in the last couple of months. In Florence, a couple of weeks ago, the population of that city was doubled when up to a million people marched and demonstrated against the outrageous prospect of attacking Iraq.

And your being here today is so important. You are the democratic opposition in this country. Newspapers often categorise people into moderates and extremists. You are the moderates, the government are the extremists. They have to be extreme to attack, unprovoked, a country that offers no threat to Australia, a country with whom the Howard government is prepared to trade.

Iraq is a nation held hostage to a medieval embargo, which has strengthened the grip of Saddam Hussein. The people of Iraq - 22 million of them - are young, more than half are children. Many of the rest are widows, vulnerable people. Many of those are suffering after a dozen years of one of the most vicious blockades of any society in modern history.

Five billion dollars worth of humanitarian goods approved by the UN security council are currently kept 'on hold' in New York by the United States with Britain backing them. They include medicines, dialysis machines, agricultural equipment, fire fighting equipment, infrastructure for schools, school books. All are humanitarian goods approved by the United Nations and blocked by the United States.

We hear much propaganda about how the regime in Iraq is starving its own people, denying them medicine. In fact, it is the other way round. It is the kind of horror that we can't barely recognise in our own societies - that our governments, the Australian government, and the United States government and the British government, have contrived, if not conspired to kill more people in Iraq than in many wars in my life time. They want to attack Iraq for one reason only. The stated reason, that of concern about Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" is repeated incessantly in the media; and yet the issue is false, a red herring.

Four years ago the same Hans Blix who is leading the UN weapon inspectors back to Iraq said that between 90 and 95 per cent of Iraq's arsenal had been dealt with; there was not a country in the world that had been so comprehensively disarmed. The basic structure Iraq's weapons-making industry had been destroyed; and that is what the inspectors are finding now. But the United States has no intention of accepting that truth. Last week Richard Perle, one of Bush's closest advisers, told a British parliamentary committee that regardless of what the inspectors found, the United States reserved the right to attack anyway.

The true issue is strategic control of a country that is of pivotal importance to the US. Iraq is the only oil producing country in the world that can increase its production. Oil is running out. In 5 to 10 years oil supplies will decline by about 5 billion barrels of oil per day. According to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Iraq is the only oil producing country whose known reserves will increase. The Americans want that oil.

Saudi Arabia, the greatest source, is proving unreliable. Although an American oil protectorate, Saudi Arabia is the home of 15 of the alleged hijackers of September 11 and of Al' Qaida. So Saudi Arabia is, in imperial thinking, unreliable. Iraq is what they want. What they want is control of the oil fields of the Middle East. There is nothing new about this. Indeed, nothing has changed since the 1920s, when the Royal Air Force bombed Iraq in order to control it. It is an insult to our intelligence for us to have to go through all these pretexts of weapons of mass destruction and so on.

And that Australia should write another chapter in its melancholy history of following great power in its imperial adventures is tragic. Yet again, the Australian establishment is putting its hand up, "Please let us be part of this! Please!" So our heroic SAS go from their great campaign against helpless asylum-seekers on the high seas to chasing tribesman in Afghanistan - for which they were just given medals; what for? Now they are off to join the Americans in a new adventure.

I watched ABC news last night and there was an item about an Australian warship back from the Gulf. There were the familiar scenes that press all the right emotional buttons. Someone draped a sign over the ship, saying "I will marry you" and the fresh-faced sailors were reunited with their wives and children. All very touching. But what were they really doing in the gulf? The ABC didn't tell us. Instead, there was manufactured pride about Australia being given the leadership of the naval blockade of Iraq. Don't they understand - those sailors and the journalists who echo propaganda - don't they understand exactly what is being blockaded? The RAN is blockading men, women and children, vulnerable human beings, a stricken nation. For example, Iraq cannot import equipment that would decontaminate the southern battle fields, where depleted uranium - a genuine weapon of mass destruction - was used against the Iraqis by the Americans in 1991, where the incidence of cancer is 8 to 10 times the rate anywhere else in the world.

I want to end by addressing my fellow journalists. I have been a journalist for many years. The media now are more powerful than they have ever been. Propaganda now is more powerful than it has ever been. Censorship by omission is more powerful than it has ever been. This great event today apparently was not important enough to appear in the Sydney Morning Herald, the pre-eminent newspaper of this city or to be reported in advance by the ABC, the national broadcaster. I attended a press conference on Thursday. It was virtually boycotted. Even the parliamentary correspondent of the ABC failed to turn up.

The media in the end will have blood on their hands. I don't say that rhetorically. Only public opinion and the collective action of the public can safeguard humanitarian issues around the world. But the public can only know about the issues - the truth about Iraq, for example - if journalists and broadcasters tell them. And I appeal to the many good people that there are in the media, who feel strongly about this form of censorship, but often don't know what to do; I appeal to them to reject this excluding and manipulative system and to start telling the truth.

I congratulate you all for coming today. Never lose heart. You are the opposition and the hope of many who do not demonstrate. You are at the heart of a huge new movement for which every rally like this one today is a victory.

The butchers of Baghad & Beirut

Rawan Abdul Nabi

We come together in our thousands today to protest against yet another war on Iraq. To say NO to Australian involvement in this war, a war which will further destroy an already impoverished country.

And while our government contemplates going to war in our name, we must recognize that the plight of the Iraqi people and that of the Palestinian people are inseparable. Inseparable because of the hypocrisy and double standards of how the two peoples are treated. Both peoples have suffered campaigns of war and injustice against them. Both Iraqi and Palestinian civilian populations are dying everyday from the effects of war and economic sanctions imposed on them. These effects include malnutrition, disease, displacement and death. And in both communities, it is the children who have suffered the most and will continue to be hit the hardest, if we in Australia allow our government to go off to another deadly war.

The hawks of war, Bush, Blair and Howard are demanding that Iraq comply with United Nations resolutions or "face the consequences". Already Iraq has been punished for years for its so-called non compliance through a genocidal campaign of economic sanctions that has crippled the civilian population. By all accounts from international relief agencies, this is a humanitarian diaster. A chronology of genocide.

If the international community is so concerned about the compliance of UN resolutions, why is Israel treated so differently? For decades, Israel has defied countless UN Resolutions and breached international human rights standards and law. Yet do we hear the leaders of the world calling for regime change in Israel? Do we see the so called moral leaders of the world imposing an economic blockade on Israel for its flagrant breach of human rights and UN resolutions. The hypocrisy and double standards is what we must face up to today. Without this acknowledgement, real justice and freedom for the Palestinian people, for the Iraqi people will never be achieved.

We know well the evil deeds of Saddam Hussein. We condemn his murderous rampages against the Kurds and any dissenting Iraqi voices. But what of the evil deeds of the Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, by international standards, a war criminal. While Saddam might be known as the butcher of Baghad, equally, Ariel Sharon is known as the butcher of Beirut. A man who by his own country's commission was found indirectly responsible for the brutal and vicious massacres that killed up to two thousand Palestinian refugees in the camps of Sabra and Chatila in Beirut in 1982. A serial war criminal who was at it again in the Jenin refugee camp earlier this year.

While Israel defies and breaches human rights declarations, Geneva Conventions, the United Nations Charter and Security Council Resolutions and continues its illegal occupation over the lives of the Palestinian civilian population through the daily humiliation of check points, land grabs and the brutalities of state terrorism, we are more than happy to go off and further devastate the Iraqi people's attempts at living. For 35 years, Palestinians have suffered military control over their lives. When do we as Palestinians get the international community's urgent attention ensuring that our human rights are a priority, and that weapons of mass destruction are not used against us? When do we get our freedom? When do our children get the chance to live their lives without Israelis aiming their guns at the heads and their hearts?

In Iraq, like in Palestine, it is the children who continue to suffer. Why do we deprive them of their humanity and rights. Since 1991, it is estimated over 1.25 million Iraqi people have died as a result of the war and sanctions. Half a million of those have been children. When Madeleine Albright was asked whether it was worth killing a half a million children, she agreed in 1996 that yes it was worth it. Do we here in Australia think it is worth killing another half a million children? In Palestine, over 350 of the 2200 Palestinians killed have been children and thousands more have been disabled. More than half of children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic and acute malnutrition.

Both Iraq and Palestine were known in the Arab world for having the most educated peoples. Today the story is very different. In Iraq, schools and universities have been forced to close. People simply can't afford education when they can't afford to eat. And in Palestine, schools are continually being closed, shelled, and used as detention centres and army barracks by the Israeli military. Over 2000 children have been wounded on their way to school.

Another war on Iraq will ensure more death and destruction. What will happen when the world's attention is turned away towards an unjust war against the Iraqi people? Ariel Sharon has refused to rule out a forcible expulsion of the Palestinian populations of the West Bank and Gaza. The Israeli government and army have a proven track record of war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide. While the attention of the international community has not stopped Israel's settlers, occupation army and government's violence against the Palestinians, it has tempered it. So we must be ready, in the event of a war against the Iraqi people, to help the Palestinian voices speak out. This is a humanitarian and moral struggle. We have to commit ourselves to truth and justice, to supporting the rights and humanity of Iraqis and Palestinians.

We must demand of our government that we will not agree to the bombing of the Iraqi civilian population in our name. We demand that the Australian government call on the Israeli government to end the apartheid imposed on the Palestinian peoples.

We demand that no country should be treated above the law, and that if Iraq and other nations are ordered to comply with Security Council resolutions, then countries like Israel should not be exempt from their moral responsibility to implementing countless UN resolutions. We demand an end to the suffering of the people of Iraq by the government withdrawing its support for and active participation in the economic blockade of Iraq.

We call upon the Australian government to stand up for justice and humanity, and put an end to the hypocrisy and double standards in its foreign policy. Let's be independent. We call on the Australian community to stand strong in the name of freedom and justice for the Iraqi and Palestinian peoples.

Sharan Burrow is president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). Pat Power is the Auxiliary Bishop of Canberra & Goulburn (Catholic Church). Judy Davis is one of Australia's most distinguished actors. Kassim Abood is President of the Iraqi Migrant Council. John Pilger is one of Australia's most distinguished journalists. Rawan Abdul Nabi has just completed her Higher School Certificate.

See also:

Australia walks with the world against the war

Blair's in the doghouse, by Linda Heard

Powell's dubious case for war, by Phyllis Bennis

National weekend of action against a war on Iraq, by Nerissa Bradley

Another century of war? by Gabriel Kolko

Steve Earle's fighting words, by Vit Wagner

An open letter from the academic community opposing a US invasion of Iraq

Uncle oSAMa says, by Tom

Bali proves that war on terror isn't working, by Jonathan Freedland

When politics is in the blood, by Margo Kingston

A letter to the Australian public, by Australia's elders

Iraq & the war on terrorism, by Al Gore

Facts are the best cure for this outbreak of war fever, by Simon Tisdall

A history lesson on Iraq: The roots of revolt, by Phillip Knightley

Iraq: the Final Storm, by Ron Jacobs

Our mission for this new millenium, by Tom Uren

What Israel has done, by Edward Said


Suggested citation
Nabi., Sharan Burrow, Pat Power, Judy Davis, Kassim Abood, John Pilger & Rawan Abdul, 'Sydney's walk against war', Evatt Journal, Vol. 2, No. 8, December 2002.<>