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Statement Against War on Iraq

17 September 2002

The Australian Greens welcome the opportunity to begin what must necessarily be an ongoing parliamentary debate on the situation in Iraq. It is important that we discuss this international conflict in the context of the welcome break that has been provided by today's announcement that the Iraqi government will unconditionally allow weapons inspectors back into Iraq.

The announcement provides an opportunity for calm and rational reflection. This reflection is necessary if the international community is to continue to work together to achieve positive outcomes, rather than spout the warmongering rhetoric that we have heard from George Bush, John Howard and Alexander Downer in the last few months.

In their response to today's announcement, the US administration have confirmed their real agenda, which of course is regime change.

International situations such as these are complex, yet the United States administration continue the hard sell of their simplistic solution of regime change. For the handful of people who continue to believe that this is about September 11 or about removing dictators who possess and develop weapons of mass destruction, let the US response to today's announcement be a wake-up call: the game is up; it was never about that and it was never going to be.

All international conflicts are about strategic interests, and this is no different. It is about US strategic interests in the region and the US domestic political situation.

The modern history of the Middle East has been about the US and the international community trying to dominate affairs in that region. Some of this engagement has been constructive, but the current rhetoric is totally unproductive and clearly focused on extending US influence in the region, particularly relating to resources.

`Regime change' is marketing jargon for putting in place a new US-friendly government. Regime change does not mean democracy, improved human rights for Iraqi civilians or stability in the Middle East; it simply means putting in place someone the United States can do business with.

September 11 had an enormous impact on the United States. The need for the US to avenge this tragedy has been pinned to the so-called `war on terrorism'. It is hard to have a war on a concept, so now we have the war on Iraq.

Also influencing the US government are the corporate collapses that have occurred in the US, which are not helping the Republicans' re-election chances in the upcoming congressional elections. And no amount of weapons inspections will change that.

The Greens believe that it is imperative that the international community addresses instances of militarism, violence and oppression. There is a responsibility on democratic and peaceful governments to assist others in achieving democracy and stability. As part of the international community, we must urgently address global poverty, inequality and human rights abuses.

It is worth restating the obvious fact that if half the money and energy that have been poured into warmongering were directed towards achieving peaceful outcomes we might already have achieved many of these solutions. This is something we should not forget when we talk about committing vast resources to the destructive course of war.

We should use Iraq as a model for how the international community should resolve difficult situations.

First, if we want to achieve long-term stability in Iraq we need to start by laying off the rhetoric. It was not bullying that achieved today's breakthrough. The US has been flexing its muscles for months on this issue. George Bush made it clear that he would not be satisfied with inspections, but the rest of the world has forced him to re-open that option.

It was the concerted international pressure exerted by the United Nations that finally brought Iraq to see sense on this issue. This kind of pressure can and should be used to push the Iraqi situation to a peaceful resolution.

We must then take a range of measures to restore dignity and prosperity to the Iraqi people.

Democratic reform is a luxury for people whose basic needs of clean water, food and health care are not being met. The innocent citizens of Iraq have suffered not only under the dictatorship of Saddam but also through the punishment of the international community's brutal and inhumane sanctions regime. Basic infrastructure must be restored and sanctions wound back so that they are tightly focused on weapons capability. The Oil-for-Food program fails on this test.

There are numerous examples of governments that have been condemned internationally and have even been subjected to sanctions while at the same time there has been direct assistance to their people. Organisations and individuals of many nations worked within South Africa during the apartheid regime to help black communities resist the regime and move towards democracy.

The idea that all the people of South Africa should have been isolated and condemned because of their oppressive government is clearly ridiculous and unjust. This is also true for Iraq.

There must also be justice for the abuses and atrocities perpetrated by the leaders of these countries. When there is evidence of crimes against humanity, the perpetrators should be tried. We already have a proven mechanism for doing this, in the International Court of Justice. It is appropriate for us to pursue justice, not vengeance.

The peace that the Greens are talking about is not a passive response to a dictator but the only way to achieve a lasting peace in the region. The Greens have called, and continue to call, for UN involvement in a program for peace. But we do not support war, even with United Nations endorsement.

The United Nations might be the only forum that can bring peace, but United Nations support does not justify an invasion.

There is a serious risk that the United States, in its overwhelming dominance, will be able to persuade and coerce nations to support a course of action that is against their better judgement. We have seen here in Australia that even overwhelming opposition from the electorate will not stop a government that is determined to make its international masters happy.

The Greens in parliaments and on the streets all over the world have been pushing for programs for peace. Here in Australia we call on the government to take an opportunity to step back from the terrible game of brinkmanship that the United States has drawn us into.

Australia must play a lead role in the international arena to pursue justice, democracy and peace. The path to peace is not as simple as a call to war, but it is the only responsible course of action and it is the only way that we can achieve long-term peace in the region.

Senator Kerry Nettle (Greens), in response to Ministerial statement on war on Iraq,
Australian parliamentary debate

Stop killing the people of Iraq


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