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US Out of the Middle East

No war with Iran, Edinburgh 9 Jan 2020

Text from my speech at the No War With Iran protest organised by Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition on the evening of 9 January 2020, in response to the US assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on 3 January. The speech I delivered will have differed a little - it's hard to consult notes in the dark. Other speakers were Pete Cannell (Edinburgh Stop the War Coalition), Councillor Gordon Munro, Tasneem Ali (Muslim Women's Association of Edinburgh) and Lynn Jamieson (Scottish CND).

We stand here at an extremely worrying moment. Thankfully, the escalation that seemed likely a few days ago hasn’t so far happened. But the situation created by Trump’s provocation is still volatile and dangerous and I’m not going to even try to guess at the long-term consequences.

What is quite clear is that the events set in motion by Bush and Blair’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq the best part of 2 decades ago are still being played out. We need to finish with that story before it finishes with us.

The situation is very complex but every one of the problems now afflicting the Middle East – including Iran’s destructive suppression of the revolution in Syria – has its roots in the US-British imperialist presence in the region.

That word – imperialist – has become unfashionable now but 18 years ago it was being used quite openly by some supporters of the invasion of Iraq, people who believed they could remake the world as they pleased and are now trying to do the same thing again.

We need to unequivocally condemn Trump’s drone-murder of Qassem Soleimani and those who died with him.

And we need to demand that British and US troops get right out of the Middle East, right now. And while they’re at it, covert operatives and private military contractors – mercenaries to you and me – need to get out too.

The current situation is hard to fathom because back last September, when Trump sacked John Bolton as national security advisor, it looked as though he was turning away from war with Iran.

What happened since then? I don’t know, but history has a lesson for us.

After 9/11, Iran gave absolutely crucial support to the US in its attack on Afghanistan. It encouraged the Northern Alliance to work with the US, so that Alliance forces became effectively the ground troops for the US in the campaign for Kabul. It provided the Northern Alliance with weapons and military advisers. It passed intelligence on the Taliban to the US and persuaded the Northern Alliance to support the Americans’ man, Hamid Karzai, as head of the Afghanistan government.

So you might have thought that relations between the US and Iran were going to improve. But in January 2002 George Bush invented an axis of evil that he said was made up of Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

It’s no secret how that happened. Once Iran was known to be cooperating with the US, the Israel lobby got to work and turned that position around. Why? Because Iran supports Palestine.

Trump’s relationship with US foreign policy hawks is complicated, but his relationship with Netanyahu is very simple. They are pals.

What I particularly want to say is that if tensions with Iran continue, there are going to be consequences for our communities here in Britain.

Iranians have already been targeted at US borders. Just yesterday Cressida Dick, head of the Metropolitan Police, said they would be "reaching out into communities and looking at the possible threats and risks that might come."

We know what that means. It means the Prevent programme and other even more covert and intrusive forms of surveillance.

The target will be the Iranian community and Shia communities more widely. Shia communities and institutions have so far not seen these sort of government programmes as particularly threatening and in many cases have done too little to challenge them.

Those communities are now poorly prepared for what may be to come – harassment, censorship, and quiet efforts to keep them from joining in with political activities like this one.

So I want to say on behalf of SACC, we stand firmly against US and British aggression towards Iran. We also stand in solidarity with people of Iranian and Shia heritage, with their right to speak and campaign and organise, and with their right, whatever their political views, to go about their lives without harassment.