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saddam rewards aussies

  1. demon7

    258 posts.

    Saddam rewards protests
    By John Kerin in Baghdad, Cameron Stewart and Sid Marris
    February 22, 2003
    SADDAM Hussein's men in Baghdad know a good propaganda opportunity when they see one.

    And the sight of half a million Australians marching for peace last weekend was a chance too good to pass up.

    So yesterday, buoyed by the protests, Iraqi Trade Minister Mohamed Saleh sent what amounted to a massive thank you note.

    He announced that Iraq had decided to resume all orders for Australian wheat – worth up to $800 million a year – out of respect for Australian farmers, the Australian Wheat Board and the Australian public's clear opposition to war.

    "We still respect the position of the wheat board, who have stayed with us in difficult times," Mr Saleh said.

    "For this reason we have kept our (trade relationship) with Australia open, not in favour of the Government of Australia but in favour of the farmers of Australia and the Wheat Board of Australia.

    "After the demonstrations which have taken place against the Prime Minister in Australia, we have decided to resume our normal orders."

    Last November, Iraq cancelled half of its orders for Australian wheat because of Canberra's tough political stance supporting a US-led attack on Iraq.

    On the eve of war, Iraq is now doing all it can to exploit the politics of peace and further divide public opinion.

    Even before Baghdad's decision yesterday, the Howard Government was hardening its stance against the peace movement that burst back to life last weekend for the first time in more than a decade.

    In an attempt to regain the high moral ground, John Howard on Thursday warned that massive anti-war protests would give "comfort" to Hussein and effectively make it harder to disarm him peacefully.

    Opposition Leader Simon Crean immediately labelled the comments a "disgrace", saying the Prime Minister was "questioning the loyalty of half a million mums and dads".

    Mr Howard yesterday denied this, but continued to question the wisdom of marchers. "I'm not saying those people who went into the streets support (Hussein)," he said.

    "The point I'm making is that the way in which their demonstrations are depicted, and the fact that they contain posters and rhetoric and everything, more criticism of the United States than of Iraq, that that is the impression that is created."

    The RSL – a staunch enemy of the peace movement during the Vietnam War – agreed yesterday that the protests would give comfort to Hussein. But the old soldiers also defended the right of protesters to make their voice heard.

    "We welcome the political debate, and peaceful protest is a healthy and legitimate part of it," RSL national president Major-General Peter Phillips said.

    "Of course, any protest anywhere in the world will give comfort to Saddam Hussein, but the democratic right of peaceful protest must also be maintained – it is what Australians may well be fighting for."

    The organisers of the peace marches said the Prime Minister was misreading the nature of the new protest movement.

    Although the marchers carried more placards attacking US President George W. Bush than they did of Hussein, organisers denied it was being driven by extreme left-wingers with anti-American agendas.

    On the contrary, they argued that the anti-war movement in Australia was riding on the back of a completely different kind of protester.

    Bruce Childs, a veteran organiser of peace marches, said he first noticed the sea change in the days leading up to the march by 200,000 people in Sydney last Sunday.

    The people who were calling the headquarters of the Walk Against the War Coalition were not the usual protest hardcore of ageing Trotskyites, rag-tag ferals and old-style left-wingers.

    They were young mums, wanting to know if it would be safe to take their children in strollers.

    They also were seniors saying they wanted to march but didn't know if they'd be strong enough.

    And they were middle-class office workers, asking what they could do to help spread word of the marches around the country.

    "I had nuns ringing me up, saying one of them had bad legs and asking me if she could participate in another way," said Mr Childs.

    Around Australia, march organisers were sensing the same thing.

    "These weren't professional protesters," said Gavin Sawford, spokesman for the Queensland Peace Network.

    "These were mums and dads – they were protest virgins – and for most of them it was the first time they had joined in such a thing."

    Mr Sawford said that in Brisbane, there were at best some 1000 core activists out of a total of 50,000 marchers. "As a proportion of those marching they were almost invisible, they were just absorbed by a mass of families."

    The presence of so many ordinary Australians has clearly unnerved the Government, which sees the potential for a voter backlash.

    But so far, the Government's hardline stand on Iraq has not dented voter support for the Coalition, which according to a Newspoll published this week would have been returned if an election had been held last weekend.

    However, the Newspoll, conducted exclusively for The Australian last weekend, shows Mr Howard's personal approval rating has slumped to an eight-month low of 48 per cent.

    Both sides of politics will be closely watching to see if this new peace movement will maintain its momentum beyond the next few weeks.

    If war is delayed further, say until mid-year, there is every chance the protests will grow ever larger, posing a genuine threat to the Government's standing.

    However, if war proves to be swift and decisive, the movement may die a relatively quick death.

    Organisers maintain that the overwhelming majority of those who have marched are anti-war – rather than anti-Washington.

    "This is a new and different peace movement from those in the past. These are a new generation of people," said David Spratt from the Victorian Peace Network, who organised the Melbourne rally in which more than 100,000 people marched.

    Unlike previous peace movements, where most protests were confined to cities, there have been protests across regional Australia.

    In Victoria alone, dozens of peace groups have sprung up in regional towns over the past six weeks.

    Mr Spratt said that prior to last week's "rebirth", the peace movement in Australia had been waning for more than a decade.

    He attributed the decline to the end of the Cold War and also to the rise of economic rationalism, which saw people concentrate more on domestic issues. After the massive anti-Vietnam moratoriums of the 1960s, and the anti-uranium marches of the 70s, the peace movement's last flurry of activity was the anti-nuclear marches of the mid-80s.

    Since then, the peace movement has been largely at peace.

    But Iraq's decision to exploit this week's massive marches has guaranteed that the rebirth of the peace movement is not without controversy

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