A year of Rudd's wars

By Hamish Chitts

Many who voted for the ALP on November 24, 2007, did so thinking that a Rudd Labor government would end Australia’s involvement in the US-led war in Iraq. One year on and the Australian military under PM Kevin Rudd is still an active cog in the US-led imperialism war machine in Iraq.

In the lead up to the 2007 election, Rudd described the decision by the Howard Coalition government to go to war in Iraq as the “single greatest error” of Australian foreign policy since the Vietnam War. He told voters that if Labor was elected “the combat force in Iraq, we would have home by around about the middle of next year”, adding that a Rudd government would leave behind some Australian soldiers to provide security at Australia’s embassy in Baghdad.

Upon Labor’s election, newspaper headlines in Australia and around the world proclaimed that the incoming Australian government was going to withdraw its troops from Iraq in 2008. On June 28 Rudd used a welcome home parade through Brisbane’s streets marking the return of 550 Australian Battle Group troops from southern Iraq to give the impression that he had fulfilled this promise to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq. But according to Australian defence department figures, the reality of Rudd leaving “some Australian soldiers” in Iraq is that there are currently 980 Australian troops are stationed there — nearly twice the number that were withdrawn in June and an increase of 145 troops on the 835 that remained in Iraq in June.

When confronted with this fact, Rudd’s apologists will argue that his government did bring home from Iraq the “combat” troops as he promised, but this too is false. Many of the 980 Australian Defence Force personnel that are in Iraq are in officially recognised combat roles. Furthermore, all of the ADF personnel in Iraq play some role in the continuing US-led war. There is no such thing as a “non-combatant” role for someone wearing an Australian uniform in Iraq.

In a speech to parliament in March, on the fifth anniversary of the US-UK-Australian invasion of Iraq, Rudd denounced Howard’s decision to commit Australian troops to fight in Iraq, saying: “Have further terrorist attacks been prevented? No, they have not been, as the victims of the Madrid train bombing will attest. Has any evidence of a link between weapons of mass destruction and the former Iraqi regime and terrorists been found? No. After five years, has the humanitarian crisis in Iraq been removed? No it has not.” Rudd says one thing then does another. It’s complete hypocrisy for Rudd to publicly denounce Howard’s decision to invade Iraq, make a show of bringing some of the troops home and yet still provide nearly 1000 troops to the US-led occupation of Iraq. If Rudd were really opposed to the occupation of Iraq he would have already withdrawn all the ADF personnel from Iraq.

While Rudd, his spin-doctors and their willing apologists in the corporate media have led many people to believe that all Australian troops have been withdrawn from Iraq, his phoney withdrawal is merely a re-shuffling of warfare for the tiny and overstretched ADF. Most of the 550 troops who have returned will soon be used to bolster Australian efforts to defend the corrupt US-installed puppet government of Afghanistan. One of the first things Rudd did after being sworn in as prime minister on December 3 last year was visit Afghan President Hamid Karzai to assure him and his US masters that Canberra was fully committed to the imperialist war in Afghanistan. Rudd told Australian troops in Afghanistan: “We’re committed to being here for the long haul.”

Rudd has always maintained that Afghanistan is a “just” war and that somehow Australians are safer for it. In an October 15 address to the C.E.W Bean Foundation at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Rudd said: “Our commitment to Afghanistan is critical. It is critical because it is clearly in our national interest.” He added: “Under the Taliban, the people of Afghanistan lived in an environment of oppression and extreme poverty with the constant threat of violence.”

But under the rule of US-backed warlords and opium barons, the people of Afghanistan face even greater oppression and poverty than they did under the Taliban. They not only have to endure the constant threat of violence from local warlords and their militias, but also from US-led foreign occupation forces who carry out indiscriminate air attacks on their villages. On July 6, for example, US warplanes attacked a village wedding party killing the bride and 22 others.

In September 2006 the BBC’s South Asia bureau chief, Paul Danahar reported that “when the Taliban were driven out [of Kabul and other Afghan cities] and the old regional warlords came back, so did a lot of robbery, rape and murder”. Danahar reported that the Taliban had made “southern Afghanistan a lot safer for ordinary people than it is now”.

As the US-led occupation continues, more and more Afghans aren’t just voicing their opposition to it; they are willing to take up arms against the world’s most powerful military and its allies. Many were not previously supporters of the Taliban but now see it as a lesser evil to the horrors of the US-led occupation.

The majority of military and intelligence analysts around the world agree that the invasion of Afghanistan has increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks against those countries involved in the invasion and occupation. In a 2007 Center for American Progress survey, 91 of America’s top 100 foreign-policy experts believed that the world was less safe for US citizens after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. While there has never been a strong credible threat of a terrorist attack in Australia, the Rudd governments continual involvement in the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq actually increases this threat.

On July 8 SAS Signaller Sean McCarthy became the sixth Australian soldier to die as part of the occupation of Afghanistan when a roadside improvised explosive device was detonated as the vehicle he was in passed by. McCarthy’s death was the first by an Australian soldier in Afghanistan since Rudd’s election. Commenting on McCarthy’s death, Rudd said: “We’ve had losses before, my fear is we will lose them again.” This was an attempt to prepare the families of Australian soldiers for more deaths in the face of growing Afghan resistance to the occupation of their country. Rudd’s “fear” was confirmed on November 27 when another Australian soldier was killed by a roadside bomb during a skirmish with Taliban forces.

Under Rudd there has been an increase in ADF personnel numbers in Afghanistan — from 950 when he came into office at the end of 2007 to 1090, according to the latest defence department figures.

Currently we have the absurd situation where most people in Australia oppose Australian participation in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq yet the protests against them have gotten smaller and smaller since the election of the Rudd government. This is largely due to Rudd’s success in convincing opponents of the Iraq war that Australia has withdrawn its troops and the corporate media’s success in demonising the Afghan resistance — convincing them that the occupation is a lesser evil to the return of Taliban rule.

One lesson that can be drawn from this past year is that it wasn’t a particular right-wing ideology under John Howard or George Bush that resulted in Australian and US troops being sent to and kept in Iraq and Afghanistan. The capitalist rulers and their politicians in both the US and other imperialist countries including Australia need these occupations to secure their control over the energy resources of the Third World. This is why Australian Labor, a party that has always defended the interests of imperialist capitalism, is just as committed to the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq as John Howard and George Bush.

[Hamish Chitts is a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party in Brisbane and one of the founders of Stand Fast — veterans and service people against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For information about Stand Fast visit www.stand-fast.webs.com or phone 0401 586 923.]