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Iraqi blood on Labor’s hands

by Alex Bainbridge

Australia’s new foreign minister, Stephen Smith, toadied up to US officials in Washington DC on January 28 to pledge Rudd government support for the US war against Iraq. While reiterating Labor’s limited promise to withdraw a mere one third of Australian troops from Iraq by mid-2008, he won praise from the Iraq war-monger Condoleezza Rice for the offer of ongoing assistance to the US occupation.

On the same day, reputable British polling company Opinion Research Business (ORB) released detailed data demonstrating that more than one million people have been killed ‘as a result of the conflict’ in Iraq.

To begin to get an idea of what this means for the people of Iraq, let’s consider the impact in Australia of the 2002 Bali bombing. How much media commentary was there about that event? How many people in this country felt sympathy, grief or outrage about the deaths on that occasion?

How would you feel if such a bombing were to occur in this country every day of the year? With 202 people killed, even a Bali bombing every day for five years would not come close to the million now dead in Iraq because of the 2003 invasion by the 'coalition of the killing' which included Australia.

In fact, even if every single day for five years we had a Bali bombing and a 1977 Granville train disaster and a 1996 Port Arthur massacre and a 1991 Strathfield massacre and a 2003 Waterfall train disaster and a 1987 Hoddle St massacre and a 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfire, we would still have fewer deaths than the one million killed in Iraq.

Remember also that these one million deaths exclude people who’ve died of old age or other natural causes – these are deaths 'as a result of the conflict'. Nor does it include the hundreds of thousands killed in the 1991 Gulf War or the more than one million deaths the United Nations attributed to the sanctions regime that was in force between 1991 and 2003.

How reliable is the data? It was collected from a sample of 2400 households in face-to-face surveys in 15 of the 18 governorates in Iraq. One in five reported that at least one person from their household had been killed.

When correlated with the results of the latest (1997) census, the survey results (with a ±1.7 per cent margin of error) indicate that 1.03 million people have been killed due to the invasion and occupation. (This figure is an adjustment made in the light of new data to the figure of 1.2 million ORB put forward in September last year. However, it is broadly comparable to the results published by British medical journal The Lancet that the occupation had resulted in 655,000 deaths by July 2006 – clearly there have been more killings since then.)

Who is responsible? In Australia, the key figures in the previous Howard government clearly share a major degree of responsibility for the bloodshed.

But what about the new ALP government?

During the election campaign, Kevin Rudd tried to walk both sides of the street with the disingenuously packaged promise to withdraw 'combat troops' from Iraq. This formula enabled him to appear to speak to the anti-war aspirations of the majority of Australian people while disguising the ALP’s ongoing support for the war.

When he mentioned the war, he would talk about an 'exit strategy' and 'withdraw[ing] troops', however, he did not challenge George Bush’s dubious rationale for war in Iraq and explicitly supported the similarly unjust war in Afghanistan.

If Labor did disagree with US war aims, they would be withdrawing all the troops! The 1000 troops to be left in Iraq and the Persian Gulf are not peaceniks engaged in civil engineering projects – they are integrally supporting the US war effort. They include 95 military personnel in the command headquarters for the US-led occupation, 100 soldiers training Washington’s puppet Iraqi army and 300 RAAF personnel. (The US Air Force website specifically refers to operations by the Australian RAAF when elaborating the important role that air-power has in supporting combat troops on the ground.)

While Stephen Smith may use language of 'humanitarian reconstruction', it is clear that Labor is trying to find politically palatable ways of assisting the US occupation of Iraq, not paying war reparations for the damage Australia caused.

George Bush, like Macbeth, is certainly 'in blood stepped in so far that ... returning were as tedious as go o’er'. The same cannot be said of the Rudd government which does not carry the same burden of responsibility as Howard and Bush for the one million deaths in Iraq.

Every day, however, the death toll grows.

If Kevin Rudd’s cabinet does not withdraw all the troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, like Lady Macbeth, they also will have blood on their hands and it is blood that will not easily be washed off.

This article was published on the ABC's Unleashed webiste.

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