As hundreds of thousands of people across Canada marched against the Iraq War in 2003, Harper demanded war. The mass movement stopped Canada from officially participating in the war, but Harper’s support continued. After first copying the Australian Prime Minister’s speech supporting the invasion, Harper wrote to The Wall Street Journal that Canada not joining the war was “…a serious mistake. For the first time in history, the Canadian government has not stood beside its key British and American allies in their time of need.” Harper vowed that “in our hearts and minds, we will be with our allies and friends,” and has worked since then to support U.S. war in Iraq — first indirectly and now directly.
Iraq slaughter + intervention in Syria = ISIS
In 2003 we were told there was no option but war to stop Saddam Hussein and liberate Iraqis. This ignored the role of the West in supporting the dictator, and the capacity of Iraqis to fight for their own liberation. The only “weapons of mass destruction” were those of the West — from sanctions that killed more than 1 million people before the invasion, to war that killed more than 1 million people after the invasion. The U.S. levelled Fallujah, tortured in Abu Ghraib, massacred in Baghdad, raped and killed in Mahmoudiya, and armed sectarian death squads as a strategy to divide and conquer — planting the seeds for ISIS to grow.
The Arab Spring showed that people in the region can fight for their own liberation, and their greatest obstacle is Western military intervention. The West highjacked the Libyan revolution, supported Israel and counter-revolution in Egypt, and armed Saudi Arabia and other dictatorships. While the Saudi dictatorship beheaded at least 8 people last month, it is immune from criticism because it does the West’s dirty work — repressing resistance in Bahrain and arming extremist groups in Syria, which have now spread into Iraq as ISIS. Canada has been part of this process: joining the bombing of Libya, supporting the new Egyptian dictatorship, selling $10 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, and unconditionally supporting Israel.
“Canada continues to condemn the repugnant killing of innocent civilians, including women and children,” said Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, justifying the latest bombing of Iraq. Where was that condemnation when the U.S. was killing a million Iraqis, or when Israel was killing thousands of Palestinians? Where’s the condemnation of the West’s role, via Saudi Arabia, of creating ISIS, or the condemnation of the impact of bombing? As Phillis Bennis wrote, “the airstrikes defeat the important goal of ending popular support for ISIS, and instead actually serve to strengthen the extremist organization.”
War on soldiers, refugees and the planet
While Harper was forced to admit the 2003 Iraq War was “absolutely an error,” he has refused to support the troops who came to the same conclusion. For 10 years Iraq War resisters have come to Canada instead of committing war crimes in Iraq. For that they have the support of international law, a majority of Canadians, two motions in Parliament, 10 court decisions, and the legacy of welcoming Vietnam War resisters (both volunteers and conscripts). But the Harper government has ignored the courts, scapegoated war resisters for a refugee backlog the government created, flagged resisters as “criminally inadmissible,” deported resisters to be jailed in the U.S., and re-written Canadian history and a government website regarding Vietnam War resisters.
The attack on U.S. Iraq War resisters parallels the campaign against Canadian veterans, and against refugees fleeing war zones. While Harper has wasted millions celebrating the war of 1812 and pledged half a trillion dollars to militarism, he has cut veteran disability pensions in the midst of a surge of suicides, restricted the arrival of Syrian refugees and cut refugee health. As a recent Federal Court ruled, “The 2012 modifications to the [Interim Federal Health Program] potentially jeopardize the health, the safety and indeed the very lives, of these innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages Canadian standards of decency… I have found as a fact that lives are being put at risk.” If Iraqis fleeing ISIS try to make it to Canada, they will encounter barriers accessing health care, barriers to citizenship for them and their children, and unsafe working conditions — like the Iraqi refugee who fell to his death six weeks ago from a scaffold in Toronto.
Iraq is still dealing with the depleted uranium fired in civilian areas in 2003, which will contaminate the country for generations, and another round of bombings will make things worse. The U.S. military is the largest consumer of oil in the world, and a new bombing campaign will add to global carbon emissions and increase demand for Canada’s tar sands — which are killing local Indigenous communities.
Years of Harper’s rule have dropped his popularity, making an uncertain military intervention risky. Like the war in Afghanistan, he is using extensions to mask the duration, and euphemisms to mask its nature. As Thomas Walkom wrote, the government promise of no boots on the ground is “a curious pledge in that it left open the question of where exactly Canadian troops operating there will place their feet.”
Like the early days in the lead up to the last Iraq War, the Liberals support Harper and the NDP is unsure. But like those days, this can change with popular pressure. The memory of the 2003 anti-war movement and the Arab Spring is not gone, and while there is currently confusion around Iraq there’s been a surge in solidarity with Palestinians and Indigenous communities here, which can reorient people to the imperial threat to Iraq.
Harper wants to bury the memory of Iraq, ignore the needs of refugees and find an outlet for tar sands and military spending — through a war that will further inflame the region and the climate. Alternatives include:
1. Don’t bomb Iraq, support Iraqi self-determination
2. Stop arming and supporting repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia
3. Stop the tar sands that fuel wars and devastate Indigenous communities
4. Support U.S. Iraq War resisters and Canadian veterans healing from past wars
5. Support refugees access to status, healthcare, and good jobs
6. Divert the $490 billion in military spending into social, economic and ecological alternatives.