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Thursday, 10 February 2005
Page: 117

Senator NETTLE (4:41 PM) —Going to war is the most serious decision that any government can make. And right now the people of Iraq know that well. War has enormous costs and consequences that can last for generations. People are killed and maimed, cities are destroyed and damaged, environments are devastated, and economies and societies are turned on their heads.

The Defence Amendment (Parliamentary approval for Australian involvement in overseas conflicts) Bill 2003 [2004] that we are debating today is one that any government that claims to be democratic should support. The decision to go to war, to deploy Australian troops overseas, should go through the parliament and should be in the hands of the people. The ongoing war in Iraq, in which Australia is deeply involved, highlights the importance of the issue. If this bill had been in place before 20 March 2003 we would never have joined the folly that is the ongoing war in Iraq. And the Greens, for example, would not have to continue to call for the immediate withdrawal of Australian troops from the Iraqi occupation.

The reasons that the Howard government gave for going to war have been proven to be false. Iraq never had weapons of mass destruction and had effectively dismantled its programs; al-Qaeda was never involved with Iraq, although Islamist groups connected with al-Qaeda now are. The warnings by the Greens and others in the Senate who voted to oppose the war have proved to be remarkably insightful. As many as 100,000 Iraqis have died and many more have been injured and displaced. Over 1,600 coalition troops were killed and almost 10,000 have been wounded, the majority seriously. A country that was already brought to its knees by a decade of murderous sanctions in which Australia played an important role has been devastated. Iraqi residents now have only a few hours of electricity a day, and water supply services and the health system are barely functioning.

In 1953 the then President of the United States and former general, Dwight Eisenhower, said:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense.

Australia has already spent almost $1 billion on the war and, as we saw this week, the White House has been forced to hide an additional $80 billion earmarked for Iraq and Afghanistan in order to claim that it is cutting the US deficit. This has implications for all of us with the global economy so tied to the health of the United States economy.

Another two years of the war could seriously damage the global economy, but unfortunately there appears to be no end in sight. The chants of ‘no blood for oil’ that we heard from millions of people around the world who protested about the war almost two years ago pinpointed the heart of the problem. The addiction of the United States and Australia to oil is driving this war. Despite the growing threat of climate change, the neoconservatives who now run the White House intend to maintain and extend the policy of control in the Persian Gulf rather than pursue alternative energy policies that focus on renewables, for example. As a result, more US soldiers and possibly Australian soldiers will die to secure the second-largest oil reserves in the world. This is why the recent elections, while significant, are not a turning point.

The elections are a testament to the bravery and tenacity of many Iraqis who not only voted but had previously forced the United States to allow the elections. Despite this, unfortunately the elections were not genuinely democratic. An election in a country under occupation by 170,000 foreign troops, with a state of emergency in force, and in which most of the candidates’ names were kept secret would generally be criticised by Western governments, but here it was hailed as a success. The initial claims of a 60 per cent turnout have proven to be wrong, with the turnout reported to be much lower and the election effectively boycotted in many towns and cities. The international turnout was as low as 22 per cent. Allegations of voting being linked to receiving rations and of ballot boxes being transported by US troops in the north will not be investigated by international observers, because they were forced to remain in Jordan. The Carter Centre, which monitors elections world wide, refused to send observers, because the election was clearly not going to be free or fair.

Announcement of the election result has been delayed again today, but we have an idea of the result. Despite the White House support for Allawi’s ticket, the overwhelming vote was for the religious coalition of Shiah groups. This should come as no surprise to people who have closely followed the situation in Iraq. These groups campaigned on a platform which included the removal of foreign troops. This is a further blow to those who hoped for a secular Iraq, with the Shiah religious leaders already indicating that they want to implement sharia law. Already in the south, women are being forced to wear black from head to toe.

Currently the nationalist and Islamist insurgency is largely restricted to about 30 per cent of the population. If the Shiahs who voted for the withdrawal of foreign troops do not see change, they too may join in with the insurgency, and the insurgency may well become unstoppable. It is possible that an Iranian-style government that is hostile to the United States will develop in Iraq, although recent statements by the Shiah leaders suggest that they are open to privatising Iraq’s oil, which is a major policy objective of the White House.

It is clear that the United States will attempt to stay in Iraq whether or not the new government wants it to. Fourteen military bases are under development by the United States, and the Pentagon is planning a long-term deployment. This terrible war will continue. If the policy of the Howard government remains then Australia will continue to be entangled in this quagmire. The war will not end until foreign troops are withdrawn. As long as foreign troops remain, the insurgency will grow. The election result will potentially increase this conflict, not lessen it, as the Shiahs get more annoyed. Australia’s best contribution to peace would be to join Hungary and Ukraine, who recently withdrew their troops, and allow the Iraqis to determine their own future. We must not join future disastrous and illegal wars in Iran, Syria or anywhere else.