Recent opinion polls have shown that almost two-thirds of Australians oppose the government’s involvement in the ongoing war and occupation of Iraq. Also nearly three-quarters said Australian involvement in the war had increased the possibility of a terrorist attack.
Rudd has been quick to exploit this anti-war sentiment saying he will negotiate a staged withdrawal if Labor wins power at the next election. Australia has some 1,500 military personnel based in the Middle East with about 900 inside Iraq. They include the 100 member security detachment protecting Australian diplomats in Baghdad, and 550 combat troops stationed in southern Iraq.
Rudd has said that he would withdraw the 500 odd combat forces from southern Iraq, ‘in consultation with the Iraqi government’. This however would still leave many Australian defence personnel stationed in Iraq supporting the US-led occupation.
Despite wanting to take some troops out of Iraq he sees the alliance between the US and Australia as paramount. After meeting George Bush in Sydney in early September he said “I would want to not only continue our strong relationship with the United States, but see it further strengthened into the future, with so much by way of Australia’s defence interests and our strategic interests, which depend on a robust relationship, a strong relationship with Washington”.
A federal Labor government would maintain strong links with the US and could well follow them into more military adventures in the future. Rudd’s position on Iraq is in fact very similar to that of some leading Democratic contenders for the US presidency. Whilst arguing for some withdrawal really they are openly advocating for an indefinite military presence in Iraq and further military interventions around the world.
Labor’s statements on the issue of Iraq are obviously extremely contradictory. They are appealing to popular anger over Australia’s involvement in Iraq, whist at the same time confirming their commitment to the US alliance.
These contradictions are a reflection of Labor’s politics and the tactical nature of their opposition to the Iraq war. On the one hand they need the votes of ordinary people to get elected but when it comes down to it they are a party that represents big business interests, hence the lies and contradictions in their statements.
Even the Greens are not an explicitly anti-war party. They claim to be against the war in Iraq but only because it was not launched under the auspices of the UN. Bob Brown has made many speeches arguing that the government should bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan only to redeploy them in the East Timor and the Solomon Islands!
The situation in Iraq can only be described as a living nightmare of occupation and sectarian bloodshed. The presence of US, British and Australian troops is only compounding this problem. The Socialist Party calls for all troops to be withdrawn from Iraq and for support to be given to the emerging trade unions and secular workers organisations in the country.