From Socialist Voice, December 5, 2004
By Roger Annis and John Riddell
U.S. President George Bush met an angry reception during his state visit to Canada November 30-December 1, as tens of thousands of people took to the streets in many cities to protest Washington’s wars.
The largest protest took place in Ottawa on November 30, where close to 20,000 people took part in a day of action to condemn the U.S./British occupation of Iraq and to denounce Bush as a war criminal. The following day, more than 5,000 people marched in Halifax during a 90-minute stopover by Bush.
In Vancouver, British Columbia, two protests took place on November 30, both organized by the Stopwar coalition. A noon march drew 1,000 people, the majority of whom were delegates to the annual B.C. Federation of Labour convention. Five hundred people attended an evening rally.
The city of Ottawa resembled an armed camp for the 24 hours of Bush’s visit. Streets were closed, helicopters hovered constantly, police in riot gear were everywhere, and police snipers occupied rooftops. Actions were held throughout the day in an effort to confront Bush as he moved about the city. A rally of 15,000 took place on Parliament Hill in the late afternoon and evening. Buses brought participants to the city from Toronto, Montreal, and other cities across Ontario and Quebec.
Bush adjusts schedule
The prospect of large protests caused several changes in the Bush schedule. He did not speak to the Canadian parliament—normally the custom during a state visit. His handlers worried that some members of parliament might interrupt his speaking and condemn his policies.
The visit to Ottawa was cut short in order to stop in the east-coast city of Halifax for a public relations performance in front of a select gathering of political and military figures. The ostensible purpose of Bush’s speech was to thank families in eastern Canada who took stranded airline passengers into their homes in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001. In fact, his speech was a vigorous defense of the U.S. “war on terror” and policy of preemptive aggression. Violating diplomatic protocol, Bush also tossed out a challenge to the Canadian government to join in the “missile defense” program.
Several of the families who offered post-September 11 hospitality spoke out against this show. Speaking to a news conference on November 29 beneath a black banner reading, “He’s not welcome,” Anne Derrick, a lawyer whose family took in passengers, said, “Mr. Bush has squandered the sympathy earned by the U.S. after September 11. I hope he gets the message during his visit here that we will not be cheerleaders for his administration’s brutal foreign policies.”
Marchers in Halifax carried signs saying, “Stranded passengers always welcome; preemptive wars are not!” While the main theme of the march was opposition to the Iraq war, marchers also condemned Bush’s opposition to abortion rights for women and his government’s attack on democratic rights at home.
B.C. Federation of Labor President Jim Sinclair was the main speaker at the noon rally in Vancouver. He condemned the U.S. occupation of Iraq and called for withdrawal of occupation troops. He also denounced the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel and the erection of its apartheid wall on Palestinian land.
The main rally in Ottawa heard speeches from Jack Layton, head of the New Democratic Party, a spokesperson of the Bloc Quebecois, Denise Veilleux of the Union des forces progressistes (a left-wing party in Quebec), Member of Parliament Carolyn Parrish, several representatives of Arab-Canadian organizations, and others.
Veilleux evoked strong applause from the crowd when she explained that the occupation in Iraq results from an international system of domination and exploitation that must be changed.
Member of Parliament Carolyn Parrish received the strongest applause. She was recently expelled from the ranks of Liberal Party members of parliament by Prime Minister Paul Martin for her outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq and the new anti-ballistic missile program that the U.S. government is pressing Ottawa to sign onto.
Jack Layton spoke on the proposed missile program and concerns about the effects of global warming. He made no comment on the war and occupation in Iraq. Just prior to Bush’s visit, Layton had failed to mention Iraq among the steps he proposed the U.S. government take to “make the world a safer place.”
For more than a year, the NDP leadership has downplayed the party’s opposition to the Iraq war and focused instead on themes of defending Canadian sovereignty. It is from mainly this angle that Layton and other party leaders Jack Layton oppose Washington’s “missile defense” program.
Canada’s rulers tighten ties with Washington
Bush’s visit was first and foremost an initiative by Canada’s ruling elite to strengthen its support for U.S. war policies in Iraq and elsewhere. Unfortunately, speakers in the anti-Bush said little about Ottawa’s complicity in the war drive. It is vital that the antiwar movement in Canada strongly oppose the warmakers here at home—otherwise it will be robbed of its potential political impact.
And the federal government has taken many steps over the past year to increase its active support U.S.-led wars and occupations:
- Canada has announced it will join the U.S.-led effort to arrange a national “election” in Iraq in January. This electoral sham, to be staged under the control and watchful eye of occupation forces, is a centerpiece of efforts by the U.S. and Britain to divide and demobilize Iraqi resistance to occupation.
- Canada is also an enthusiastic partner in the imperialist occupation in Afghanistan. It committed 3,000 troops there earlier this year, (since reduced to 700) in the name of helping the U.S. and Britain with their occupation in Iraq.
- In February, Canada joined the U.S.-led intervention that overthrew the elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti. Canada’s national police force is a part of the ongoing international occupation force there.
- The Canadian government has signaled its interest in signing the proposed ballistic “missile defense” agreement with the U.S. If successful, this armament program would enable the U.S. military to achieve a long-cherished dream: the capacity to launch a devastating nuclear attack on a rival power while absorbing only “tolerable” retaliation on U.S. soil. Obviously, this effort can only escalate the world arms race.
- On the day of Bush’s departure from Canada, Ottawa carried out a decisive shift at the United Nations in its support to the imperialist state of Israel. It voted against three resolutions there that recognize the national rights of the Palestinian people. For many years, Canada abstained on such votes at the UN. Only three other countries of significance voted against the resolutions—the United States, Australia, and Israel.
Destruction of Fallujah
Bush arrived in Ottawa in the shadow of the destruction of the city of Fallujah in Iraq by U.S. occupation forces. Details of the gruesome toll of the U.S. assault on the city, launched on November 7, continue to accumulate.
A massive aerial and artillery bombardment preceded the invasion. Bombardments continued during the two-week assault. U.S. forces prevented military-age men from leaving the city, barricading them into what then became a free-fire zone. Anyone in the city after the invasion began was a target of U.S. snipers.
Most dwellings, commercial buildings, and infrastructure have been destroyed or heavily damaged, and the destruction by occupation forces is continuing as they conduct house to house searches for anti-occupation fighters. “The marines try to avoid ambushes,” describes a correspondent in the December 1 Independent newspaper in Britain, “by blasting holes in side walls instead of coming in through the front door. They throw grenades into every room before entering.”
More ominously, the al-Jazeera news network and the Daily Mirror newspaper of Britain have reported the use of napalm in Fallujah, a chemical weapon banned by international convention in 1980. The Mirror reports that several Labour Party members of the British parliament have denounced the use of napalm and demanded an explanation from Prime Minister Tony Blair.
U.S. pays heavy price
Fallujah was an important material and political base of the opposition to foreign occupation, and it has been lost for the time being. Similar large-scale attacks are underway against other centers of resistance in the country.
The U.S. military claims to have killed 1,200 “insurgents” in Fallujah. The real number is, according to many accounts, considerably less. A Red Cross official in the city estimated 800 civilian deaths. Resistance continues in the city, including in areas supposedly “cleared” by U.S. forces.
The vast majority of anti-occupation fighters in Fallujah succeeded in withdrawing to fight another day. Occupation casualties in dead and wounded were heavy—more than 10%, by U.S. count, of the approximately 6,000 U.S. soldiers thrown into the battle.
Meanwhile, plans to create a compliant and reliable Iraqi army and police service are in tatters. Few Iraqi soldiers were used in Fallujah. In Mosul, the third largest city in the country, an uprising of Iraqi patriots took control of the city in the opening days of the Fallujah assault. The carefully nurtured pro-U.S. police force of 5,000 in that city disappeared—most resigned or joined the patriotic forces.
Each day in Iraq, there are scores of attacks on occupation forces. U.S. combat deaths in November were 135, equaling the previous monthly high, April 2004. Since the invasion, 1,250 U.S. soldiers have died and 9,300 have been wounded. As a result of the worsening attacks, the U.S. is increasing the number of troops by 12,000, to a total of 150,000.
The destruction of Fallujah brought the U.S. no closer to its goal of subduing the Iraqi people. Three hundred thousand people were driven from their homes and their city. A New York Times correspondent wrote December 1 (with probably unconscious irony), “Military officials…face an unusual challenge: how to win back the confidence of the people whose city they have just destroyed. Their task will be made harder by the need to deter returning insurgents, who will try to sabotage the reconstruction with attacks.”
The murders of several injured and unarmed Iraqis that were caught on camera and shown on U.S. television during the battle give a glimpse of the reign of terror that prevails in the city. Those revelations, and those from this past summer earlier this year depicting the torture of Iraqi prisoners in the country’s prisons, underscore the impossibility for the occupation forces to win the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people.
Occupiers sow divisions among Iraqis
While the U.S. claims of victory in Fallujah ring hollow, it did achieve a political goal that eluded it in the preceding offensive there in April of this year. At that time, massive protest inside Iraq, including by forces within the Shia community, put a halt to an offensive against Fallujah. This time, important sections of the Shia religious and political hierarchy stood aside as U.S. battle plans unfolded. The Shia establishment is anxious to participate in the election scheduled for January 2005. They expect to win, and to share in the spoils of governing.
In northern Iraq, the U.S. has achieved a measure of support from leaders of the main political parties of the Kurdish population by tolerating—for now—de facto Kurdish regional autonomy. Washington’s stated goal is to end Kurdish sovereignty, but it is unable to act on that goal for the time being. (See Socialist Voice #14)
Massive protests needed
The U.S. is in Iraq for the long haul. It has built a series of permanent military bases and has no plans to leave unless forced to do so. The generals are prepared to accept substantial casualties among their troops, who, recruited from the poorest layers of U.S. society, are deemed expendable. The U.S. intends to use its overwhelming military power to wear down the will to resist among the Iraqi people. So far, it has made little headway. But Washington hopes that divisions among Iraqi communities to enable it to crush them one by one.
As in Vietnam three decades ago, driving out the occupiers will be primarily a political process, in which Iraqis find the path to unity against the invaders, while working people (including soldiers) in the U.S. and internationally conclude that they, too, are losers from the devastating assault on Iraq and must act to bring it to an end.
Demonstrations like those in Canada during the Bush visit, and the larger and more militant ones that greeted him recently in Chile, are the best help that antiwar activists can provide to the Iraqi people as they struggle to lift the boot of imperialist occupation from their necks and free their country.
–Socialist Voice thanks Richard Fidler for a report on the Ottawa protests.