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VIEWS AND VOICES
U.S. tries to derail an antiwar conference in Italy
"Leave Iraq in peace"

October 21, 2005 | Page 8

ON OCTOBER 2, 2005, I attended the conference "Let's Face the Truth," an international protest gathering in support of the Iraqi resistance organized by the Free Iraq Committees in Rome.

Originally, the goal was to hold a gathering in Italy of those involved with openly supporting the Iraqi resistance. Entitled "Leave Iraq in Peace--Support the Legitimate Popular Resistance," the conference was going to consist of Baathists; Ayatollah Sheikh Ahmed al-Baghdadi, the international spokesman of the movement of the Shiite movement of Moktada al-Sadr; dissident Communist leaders; the Iraqi National Foundation Congress; and the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance; as well as activists from across Europe.

This would have been a historic event: for the first time, these forces would have had the opportunity to meet together, and to launch a peace proposal to the occupying countries.

Once the nature of the conference took shape, pro-war forces in the U.S. and Europe made attempts to both impede the gathering and criminalize the Anti-Imperialist Camp, one of the organizations involved in the Free Iraq Committees--on the basis of a campaign of "10 Euros for the Iraqi Resistance" that had taken place two years before. On June 28, 44 members of the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to Sergio Vento, the Italian ambassador in Washington, expressing "concern" that "supporters of terrorist activity are planning to meet on Italian soil...to plan a campaign of financial aid for terrorism."

On top of this, the Anti-Imperialist Camp's Web site was closed down by its Internet hosting company in Utah because of its support of the resistance. The Department of Homeland Security also admitted it had a secret court order requiring the Web host to turn over records that included every visitor to the Anti-Imperialist Camp's Web site. Furthermore, the Italian police raided the home of Emanuele Fanesi, a member of the Anti-Imperialist Camp, to seize the lists of those who had contributed to the "10 Euros" campaign.

On September 3, however, the court of Perugia established that there was nothing illegal about the fundraising campaign.

The organizers did not take these attacks lying down. On August 31, they launched a hunger strike in front of the Farnesina, the Italian foreign ministry in Rome, demanding that Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini grant visas for six prominent Iraqis planning on attending the conference.

In the end, the organizers were forced to postpone the "Leave Iraq in Peace" conference since the visas were denied. The more modest goal of the October 2 gathering was to make the idea of the right of Iraqis to resist a topic of discussion among not only the left but also the mainstream media.

In spite of attempts to isolate those who support the resistance, the conference was attended by over 300 activists from 15 countries, and a range of organizations involved with the anti-imperialist left. Throughout the day, speeches centered on the threat to civil liberties and democracy in Europe and, in particular, Italy; support for the Iraqi resistance; and strategies for building future struggles.

Originally, Hajj Ali, who became the symbol of the torture at Abu Ghraib when photos of him hooded and attached to electrodes were broadcast around the world, had also been planning on addressing the meeting on Sunday.

Unfortunately, he was denied a visa to enter Italy at the last minute. When he arrived at the Italian embassy in Amman, Jordan, on September 29, he was informed that the visa wasn't available and that he must return to Iraq to apply with the diplomatic representation of Italy in Baghdad, inside the American "Green Zone."

At the end of the gathering, a three-point resolution was read in both Italian and English. It stated that the organizers want to: bring Hajj Ali to Europe in order to expose the anti-democratic character of American rule in Iraq; make a conference with representatives of the Iraqi opposition possible, which means recognition of the Iraqi resistance; and strengthen the network of anti-imperialist organizations that support the Iraqi resistance.
Katrina Yeaw, Florence, Italy

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