UK Activist Sees Opening in Iraq Failure

MONTREAL – The failure of the UK/U.S.-led coalition to implant democracy in Iraq has prompted deep soul-searching in the British civil service and opened the door for progressive organizations to influence its policy, says one long-time activist.

Whereas three years ago groups proposing alternatives to peace and security issues "couldn’t get inside the door at all," now senior bureaucrats reply, "that’s quite interesting, come to lunch," says John Sloboda, executive director of the Oxford Research Group and co-founder of the website Iraq Body Count.

"You have to be a bit suspicious: are they trying to buy us off?" he added half- jokingly, in a talk to peace activists in Montreal on Monday.

Sloboda, a professor of psychology at the University of Keele in central England stressed that he wants to discuss the way forward for the peace movement rather than the success of Iraq Body Count, which has become the recognized authority for the number of civilian causalities in that nation (11,429 – 13,398, depending on reports, as of this writing).

First, said Sloboda, perched on the edge of a table in front of about 20 activists in a small café in the heart of the city, the peace movement should celebrate its successes prior to the U.S.-led attack on Iraq in March 2003.

"All the questioning that is going on now in public life is a result of our action," said Sloboda, who estimates last year’s anti-war protests delayed the launch of the U.S.- UK campaign by six months.

He also urged activists to not despair that they had been unable to call millions of people into the streets again as they did during the global anti-war marches of February 2003.

"People will turn out again in large numbers when the time is right," said Sloboda, stressing that the strength of small movements working independently but in contact with one another is that if one fails or is destroyed by authorities, the others will continue operating.

Another sign of the peace movement’s success in Britain is that the ministry of defense, foreign and commonwealth office and the department for international development have created a liaison group that includes key members of non- governmental organizations (NGOs), he said.

"They meet us regularly and they listen to what we have to say," according to Sloboda. What the activists tell the policy-makers is that they need "a whole new way of thinking about war and peace (and about) the impulses in our society which actually are making things worse than better," he added.

"(We) really articulate for governments what are non-military (approaches) to preventing war," explains Sloboda. "We arm civil servants with resources (and ask:) ‘before you go to war, have you thought of this?’"

Those ideas include an analysis that argues the immediate cause of many of today’s conflicts is resources, particularly oil – as in Iraq – says Sloboda. Other experts, including in the Pentagon, have already predicted that fights over water will be the main source of conflict in coming years, he adds.

The reason: "massive, profligate over-consumption," says Sloboda, concluding that sustainable development is the path to future peace and security.

What that also means is that global peace, environmental and anti-globalization movements are actually struggling for the same ends, he adds.

Meanwhile the tally on the Iraq Body Count website turns over faster and faster. "Every sign that we have is that the number of civilians dying violent deaths is going up month by month," Sloboda says.

Optimists predict the war and occupation of Iraq have unleashed violence and instability that will reign in the region for a decade; pessimists predict 30 years, he adds.

But Sloboda is encouraged that Iraq Body Count, which was conceived as a tool for public awareness about civilian deaths, is being used by other activists with more specific aims. For instance, one group, Peace Rights, is sifting through IBC‘s 500 reports of casualties from April’s U.S. military siege of the city of Fallujah to find evidence that could be used in a public inquiry of the event.

Another organization plans to use information provided in the website’s reports to launch lawsuits against individual soldiers that the group believes it can prove were responsible for deaths of specific Iraqi civilians.

Read more by Marty Logan