'Coalition of the Willing' Falling Apart


3-18-05, 8:40 am

Predominant anti-war sentiment in two important Bush administration allies is catching up with their right-wing ruling parties. Polls conducted recently in Australia and Italy indicate that voters there may be ready to replace their conservative governments.

Italy Pulls Out

After the killing of Nicola Calipari, the Italian agent that aided in the return of kidnapped journalist Giuliana Sgrena, by US troops, a massive outcry against Italian involvement in the war rose in Italy.

Large street protests demanding a withdrawal of Italy's 3,000 troops from Iraq erupted. Italy's far-right Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi promised Bush that he wouldn't withdraw Italy's soldiers, but he did demand an investigation into the shooting.

Many people in Italy, including Giuliana Sgrena herself, came to believe that the shooting was not an accident. They argue that the car carrying Sgrena did follow orders from the US soldiers at the checkpoint at which her car was fired upon.

Sgrena herself says the US government did not want her to report about the siege and destruction of Fallujah last November. Sgrena reported in Il Manifesto that eyewitness accounts of the attack on Fallujah by US troops constituted a 'bloodbath' and that the atrocities there needed to be investigated as war crimes.

Berlusconi didn't get a promise of an open investigation out of Bush.

Berlusconi's ruling coalition (Casa, which includes Italy's fascist parties) faces election in 2006. According to a report in the Italian newspaper La Stampa, the main opposition coalition to Berlusconi's leads in the poll by two points. Unione is a center-left coalition composed of liberals, greens and communists, including the Communist Refoundation Party (PRC).

Anger over Italy's participation in Bush's war in Iraq that erupted after the slaying of Nicola Calipari may not be the only cause of this apparent electoral shift. According to Giuliano Cappellini, a PRC activist writing in the print edition of this publication in January, opposition to Berlusconi's domestic policies has also provoked growing anger and discontent with his administration.

Berlusconi's main domestic goal recently has been to try to privatize the equivalent of Italy's Social Security system. His campaign has mirrored Bush's campaign: use corporate financed TV ads to try to convince the public that the system is experiencing a financial crisis and that it needs to be privatized. Berlusconi wants to turn public funds over to private investment firms in private accounts.

As a result, according to Cappellini, the trade union movement and pensioners have been mobilizing to block Berlusconi's privatization scheme. Australia Next?

A similar shift in popular opinion may be observed in Australia.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, polls show the Labor Party opposition, despite recent political scandal, edging out Bush's ally John Howard in a two-way race 52-48. This is a massive statistical turnaround since two months ago when Howard's Conservative Party-led coalition held a 14-point lead.

Sour economic numbers and a sharp rise in interest rates have been partially responsible. But also part of the picture is growing discontent over Australia's continued role in Iraq.

During Australia's recent election campaign, Howard claimed that there would be no need to send more Australian troops to Iraq. Now he has promised Bush that he will send at least 450 more troops. Only 37 percent of Australians support the deployment. Most oppose any involvement.

Other items on the Howard domestic agenda can also be blamed for his party's loss of support. According to The Guardian, newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia, stagnant wages for large portions of Australia's working class are hidden by reports of economic growth in recent years.

Further, Howard's attacks on workers' rights and unions have mobilized many people in the organized section of the working class. Howard is attempting to pass bills in parliament that would weaken the negotiating position of labor unions, slash the minimum wage, erode compensation laws such as overtime pay, weaken governing bodies that try to level the playing field between employers and the unions, limit community and labor coalitions in the event of a strike, and impose severe financial penalties on unions and workers directly for industrial actions like strikes.

What Coalition?

Italy's plan to withdraw its troops is the latest in a spate of countries pulling out of Bush's war. Recently Ukraine announced its plan for withdrawal. Spain, The Netherlands, Poland, Hungary and New Zealand have all brought their troops home or have announced plans to do so.

The so-called coalition of the willing has shrunk from almost 4 dozen countries at the beginning of the Iraq war to a small handful, all of which, aside from the UK, provide no combat troops or any substantial contribution to fighting or even direct support. The US contingent is around 150,000. The UK's contribution is about 8,000.

Critics say that Bush's 'coalition' is simply a cover for a unilateralist policy that was built on bribes and threats. They also point out that in this so-called coalition effort, the US has incurred 90 percent of the casualties and 90 percent of the cost.

Anti-war opponents of Bush's Iraq invasion and occupation and continued occupation demand an immediate withdrawal of US troops. On the two-year anniversary of the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, at east 725 towns and cities in 50 states, according to the country's largest peace coalition, United for Peace and Justice, have planned demonstrations and other activities for this weekend. In March 2004, over 500,000 anti-war protestors marched in the streets of New York against Bush's war. Find out more at United for Peace and Justice.

--Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs and may be reached at jwendland@politicalaffairs.net.