Speech given at a New Worker public meeting on 10th October 1996 by Andy Brooks, General Secretary of the New Communist Party of Britain.
" For the past six years the Iraqi people have been the victims of a savage blockade. Some 500,000 children have died prematurely because of the lack of medical equipment, drugs and proper food. Tens of thousands of Iraqis died in the Gulf War and in the Cruise missile attacks on their villages and towns since the cease-fire. Millions of Iraqi people are on the brink of starvation.
These terrible statistics are ignored by the media in this country and the rest of the western world. A western world, I should add, that has plenty to say about "war-crimes" when it suits them, as we saw during the Bosnian civil war. But they say nothing about the war-crimes carried out in the name of Britain and the United States for the benefit of the big oil corporations and the feudal oil princes who live on their bounty.
But we have plenty to say and we must be heard throughout the peace and labour movement. The British government is the chief accomplice of the United States in the Middle East, British guns and missiles prop up the US armada in the Gulf which enforces this cruel economic war -- and it is a war -- against Iraq. And its a war whose chief victims are those least able to defend themselves, children, the infirmed, the old and the sick.
The western campaign against Iraq which began in 1990 was backed by a barrage of lies in the media, lies which succeeded in duping even elements of the left and peace movement into going along with the sanctions and ultimately the brutal and one-sided military offensive of 1991. The New Communist Party opposed sanctions against Iraq in 1990 and we opposed the war when it came the following year. We said sanctions would lead to war. We were proved right and many on the left have now come round to our way of thinking.
Iraq's crime was to challenge the colonial division of the Arab world -- done for the benefit of the oil companies in the 1920s when it was faced with big power bullying from Washington and the rest of the pack.
Now I want to say something about the Kurds, who are in the news again, and in whose name the United States launched its latest raids on Iraq. The Kurds have been used as political pawns by the imperialist powers since 1919. Until a few months ago we heard plenty about the Iraqi Kurds of the western "safe-haven" .And their leaders were elevated by western politicians because they were playing the western game of dividing and fragmenting Iraq.
It's a different tune now. Massoud Barzani the Kurdish leader who now controls the "safe-haven" outright is now called a "faction leader" because he realistically called on the central Iraqi government to help him end the civil strife in the autonomous Kurdish area.
And I use the word "autonomous" region carefully because it is often forgotten that Iraq was the only country to recognise and grant it's Kurdish minority autonomy back in the 70s. And I understand that it is on the basis of the old agreement that the current reconciliation is taking place.
Of course the majority of Kurdish people live in Turkey where they face vicious repression from the Turkish state. Their Kurdish Workers' Party has led the fight-back in a guerrilla war in which tens of thousands of Kurds have died. Needless to say little is said about this conflict by the so-called friends of the Kurdish people who crawl to Washington to demand further missile attacks on Iraq.
In fact the Arabs are the most reliable friends the Kurds have got -- despite all that has gone in the past. Libya's Muammar Ghadaffi told the Turkish premier to his face that the Kurds should be free. And the Turkish Kurds have a real political "safe-haven" is Syria, the home of the PKK leader and his leadership in exile.
Some on the left talk a lot about Kurdish unity. Well that's a matter for the Kurds. We certainly have no hesitation in supporting their just demands for autonomy .The PKK struggles against the Turkish state which is also under attack from progressive working class movements in the rest of that country which is totally under the thumb of the West.
But what we should consider and give our solidarity to is the wider demand for Arab unity. The Arabs from Morocco to the Gulf are divided -- by feudal and pro-western regimes propped up by the guns of the imperialists. Attempts to build Arab unity have failed not because the Arab masses didn't want it but because the imperialists fear it.
Nasser's Free Officer Revolution inspired the Arab world. His attempts to unify the Arabs were opposed by all the western powers. Britain, France and Israel invaded Egypt forty years ago to try and stop the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. Israel invaded Egypt, Syria and Jordan in 1967 at the behest of the United States, which has taken over from Britain and France as the chief protector of the oil princes and the oil wells.
And Iraq was invaded in 1991 because it challenged the imperialist status-quo which had created the artificial oil-state of Kuwait, as a British protectorate in the 20s, precisely to keep the vast oil reserves under its sands for the benefit of BP, Shell and all the other oil giants.
I want to tell you a personal story, Back in the 80s I went to an academic seminar in Oxford organised around the Palestine question. All the so-called experts were there including President Mitterand's Middle East adviser. But all they seemed to agree on was that Syria, the Arab country which has made the biggest sacrifices for the Palestinian cause, was the major obstacle to peace! The Israelis came a poor second. There was no mention of imperialism or the feudal oil sheikhs.
An elderly Egyptian got up in anger and told us this story." In the 40s when the Arabs of the Middle East won their freedom from British and French colonialism he told his son that a great future was ahead of him. Soon all the Arabs would be free and the vast oil treasure in their lands would be used to end poverty once and for all in Egypt, one of the poorest countries in the world, and throughout the Arab world.
Now he looked back bitterly at those hopes. The oil profits remain largely with the big corporations. The only Arabs to have benefited, in the main, have been the corrupt and worthless oil princes of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf who live in luxury on the crumbs given to them from the oil giants.
They and their parasitical families mostly live in the United States and their petty little states exist solely because they are underwritten by the might of imperialist guns. And when the oil runs out, as it will in a hundred years time, the oil princes will have gone and the Arab masses will be no better off than they were when it was first exploited.
We can well understand his bitterness.
Is it any surprise that the Arab leaderships which dare to stand up to the imperialists face such hostility from the west? Syria and the Sudan have the honour together with Cuba, Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea of being on Washington's "terrorist" blacklist. Libya, which puts its oil wealth at the service of the people, is under air-sanctions, steam-rollered through the Security Council by British and American imperialism on the trumped up charge of responsibility for the Lockerbie aircrash.
Yemen is isolated and recovering from a civil war inspired by the feudal Arabs and the West because they dared to oppose the Angle-American manoeuvres against Iraq together with Cuba when they both sat on the UN Security Council in 1990, Algeria was once a pillar of the non-aligned movement. Now it is being torn apart by Islamic fundamentalists who are funded by the Saudis and ultimately the West. The Palestinian Arabs still cry out for justice.
And Iraq -- well we all know what is happening to Iraq.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died in the Gulf War and its aftermath but we should not forget that British workers paid a penalty as well -- in the taxes paid for the war-machine and in the lives of British servicemen sent to keep the Emir on his throne and the oil safe for imperialism, I say we should not forget because our rulers always do,
The Romans had an epitaph that some of us may recall -- "how sweet and glorious it is to die for one's fatherland", I think it was Wilfred Owen, the 1st World War poet, who called it the "old lie". Well the "old lie" is on the Cenotaph. It says "Their name liveth evermore"
In fact the opposite is the case. British imperialism was prepared to sacrifice thousands of British lives for the Gulf War. Before the fighting broke out hospitals were being cleared for the casualties expected in the conflict. As it happened British casualties were light. But look at the fate of the survivors suffering from "Gulf War syndrome"
First we're told it was a purely mental illness. Then the Ministry of Defence conceded that pollutants were used in the decontamination of Iraqi POWS but not Allied forces. Now it would appear that pollutants were used on British troops -- some of whom are disabled for life -- followed by a shabby cover-up to avoid paying them compensation.
We pay for it all in taxes and in lives. But we're not here to simply wring our hands in pity. There are many things that we can do. Throughout the world there is growing solidarity with the people of Iraq. The move in the Security Council to block endorsement of the latest missile attacks, led by Russia, People's China and France reflects it in part.
And we must play our part as well raising the demand to stop the bombing and end the sanctions on Iraq throughout the labour and peace movement of this country. We must extract a pledge on the next Labour government to end this barbaric blockade and stop the destruction of the Iraqi people. And we must continue to campaign to stop the bombing and end the sanctions on Iraq."