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Roadworks to peace

The last thing Iranian demonstrators need is public support from Bush, says Andy Gregg.

Those of us who spent long years campaigning against Saddam but were also against the invasion of Iraq are now being asked constantly to recant. Shouldn’t we now give retrospective support to the overthrow of Saddam in the light of the recent discovery of mass graves and the evidence of appalling human rights violations which we always knew would be there? In other words the age-old “ends justify the means” argument. Of course we should declare how wonderful it is that the corrupt and brutal Saddam regime has ended. And of course it is. However the means used have been hugely destructive in terms both of human life and the damage to UN legitimacy, let alone the increased hegemony of a new pre-emptive US world-wide dictatorship. It is now even more clear that the lies and distortions used to manufacture our consent and legitimise the military invasion were totally unjustified.

Instead of a struggle by Iraqis themselves for liberation, the US and British invasion, followed by an increasingly aggressive occupation is the very antithesis of liberation. We had a massive invasion with no post-victory strategy and not even enough forward planning to stop the looting of Iraqi museums and hospitals (or even to restore water and power supplies). This is in reality a dangerous and destabilising fiasco. Score-settling, looting and ethnic and class violence were bound to follow a US-led invasion of Iraq as surely as night follows day. Rumsfeld’s quite extraordinary inability to see beyond the toppling of Saddam is all set to make this one of the most incompetent “liberations” of all time.

The US regime’s systematic lack of understanding of the Middle East is already showing itself to be both tragic and farcical. The ‘peace’ in both Afghanistan and Iraq is already starting to unravel. It will only be a few more weeks until more US soldiers will have been killed after the ‘liberation’ of Iraq than before. In the largely forgotten Afghanistan, large tracts of the South and East of the country are now under the growing control of Taliban surrogates in alliance with the murderous warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyr. President Hamid Karzai’s writ runs no further outside Kabul then the pathetic few miles of new road that have been the only major infrastructural improvement in Afghanistan since the war ‘ended’.

The West and North of Afghanistan is controlled by warlords who have only the most fleeting allegiance to the interim ‘government’. In Herat, the provincial capital of Eastern Afghanistan, the warlord Ishmail Khan is showing himself to be hardly more sympathetic to women throwing off the burka or getting an education than were the Taliban. In the North as many as three different factions of what was known as the Northern Alliance continue to skirmish with each other. Opium poppies are now flowering all over the country where under the Taliban they had been largely outlawed.

We are forced to wonder whether the reason the US is now moving so quickly onto Iran is so as to try to distract us from these growing fiascos. The fact that they are already trundling out the same kinds of pre-emptive misinformation and false logic in defence of this new adventure makes this development even more bizarre. The notion that the conservative Shia clerics in Iran have anything more in common with Al Qaida than did the secular Saddam is just one of the jokes that we are now being force fed. The conservative Shia Islam of the Persian mullahs has always hated the radical Salafist Sunni Islam which has developed in Saudi Arabia over the last few decades and which gave rise to Al Qaida. The fundamentalists in Al Qaida and Saudi Arabia consider the Iranian Shia to be apostates. The historical legacy of vicious division between Sunni and Shia, between persians and arabs and their competing geopolitical and strategic interests make it highly unlikely in the present circumstances that Iran would give even covert support to Al Qaida.

There is no conceivable reason why these two hugely different tendencies within Islam would collude in the way that the US is suggesting. Indeed during and after the Afghanistan intervention the Iranians were extremely keen to be seen to be arresting and interdicting Al Qaida operatives crossing into Iran and were then thanked by the US State Department for doing so. There is no evidence of complicity between Iran and Al Qaida that could be used as a cause of war. However, as we know “evidence” is the least of the problems that the neo-conservatives and Blair’s poodles seem to worry about – if it isn’t there they will invent it anyway.

The inconsistency of Bush “supporting” student demonstrators in Iran who are courageously demonstrating for more freedoms whilst the US army is shooting similar demonstrators in next door Iraq does not seem to compute with the blundering warmongers in Washington or indeed their lapdogs in London. A recent letter in the Independent newspaper points out that in supporting the students in Iran Bush is actually acting as an agent provocateur. He is deliberately providing an enticement to the Iranian hardliners to crackdown on the demonstrations under the convenient excuse that they are US backed so as to create the kind of massive repression that might then be used to legitimise further interference by the US. If Bush really wanted to support the brave demonstrators in Tehran and other Iranian cities he would be saying absolutely nothing. Whilst they clearly wish for more Western-style freedoms in Iran, the demonstrators have declared that they are no more pro-American than is the theocratic regime itself.

For most Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East and beyond, the spectre of Israel with an acknowledged nuclear, chemical and biological weapons capacity is a far more dangerous threat to regional and world peace than any embryonic WMD capacity that Iran might possess. Until the US takes steps to control and inspect Israel’s massive arsenal they are sending a message to countries like Iran that the only way to be safe from the US is to develop a WMD programme as quickly as possible (North Korea shows the value of WMD development better than anything – there are no suggestions that the US will invade here). But real consistency towards Israel and the surrounding arab states is a million miles from the thoughts of even Colin Powell, let alone the neo-conservatives.

One hopeful development has been the Americans realisation that they now have to do something about the continuing illegal occupation of Palestine. Sadly however there is no evidence that the US is prepared to lean on Sharon to the degree that will be necessary to get even minimal compliance by the Israelis. Within a few weeks of its life the Roadmap to Middle East Peace has already become more like a set of interminable roadworks. The problem with the whole approach is that it allows Sharon and the fundamentalists in his Government control of the process by launching preemptive assassinations against Hamas at any time that forward motion seems to be possible. As these contradictions become ever more evident and the increasing repression by US forces in Iraq plays worse and worse on the arab street the tailbacks on this roadmap are set to turn into gridlock. There is no evidence that even Colin Powell will condemn Israeli targeted assassinations in the kind of forceful language that is needed. The hawks in the administration show no enthusiasm at all for reining in their rogue ally. A weakened Tony Blair has probably already used up what little influence he claimed to have once had to get Bush to deal with these Israeli obstacles to peace.

The ‘roadmap’ itself is a highly suspect proposal. It provides no mechanism for actually addressing the violence. It leaves uncertain the borders of the proposed Palestinian state that is steadily being encroached into by an illegal Israeli wall built well inside the internationally recognised 1967 border so as to annexe illegal settlements into Israel. The possibility of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state is disappearing with every day. It allows for constant prevarication over the status of nearly half a million illegal Israeli settlers and postpones the issue of the 4 million Palestinian refugees. True and lasting peace begins with justice for all the people of the region. That the roadmap will lead in that direction is not at all evident. Under the present US leadership things can only get worse - and this is of course just what Osama bin Laden always wanted.