Rarely have delegates to a party conference had such potential to influence the course of history as they do today. In Labour's debate on the occupation of Iraq, the party will confront the biggest question facing the country: will Britain continue to follow the lead of President Bush, or will it change course and help to give the Iraqi people the chance to determine their own future? Ominously for the prospects of Labour and the government - as well as for the future of Iraq - it looks likely that delegates will vote to back the continued bloody occupation of the land of my birth to save the prime minister's political skin.
There are now two Iraq wars: the first is being fought with helicopter gunships and cluster bombs along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates; the second is being fought here in Britain and in the pre-election US. This is a propaganda war in which the hundreds of Iraqis killed every week by US bombardment fail to make the headlines, while the horrifying images provided by a Jordanian kidnapper and killer of British and US contractors is portrayed as the true face of Iraqi resistance. Thus the real human suffering, and the reality of the widespread resistance to occupation, is hidden from view, while bombing what US generals call Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's "supporters' hideouts" is portrayed as a necessity. And so Falluja, a besieged city of 300,000 people, is under daily aerial attack, and parts of Sadr City, the poorest neighbourhood of Baghdad, are being reduced to rubble. Many towns and villages across Iraq are encircled, and thousands of people arrested to crush popular resistance to occupation.
The vast majority of Iraqis reject Zarqawi and his ilk - as do the resistance and its supporters in Falluja, Sadr City and across Iraq. Many even suspect that the occupation forces are somehow encouraging the likes of Zarqawi, or at least failing to prevent their crimes, as a way of obscuring the fact that most Iraqis now actively support a patriotic and widespread resistance movement.
The occupation forces have admitted that the attacks on them by the resistance rose last month to 2,700. And how many of these 2,700 attacks a month were claimed by Zarqawi? Six. Six headline-grabbing, TV-dominating, stomach-churning moments.
Just as Iraq's 25 million people were reduced, in the public's mind, to the threat from weapons of mass destruction, ready to be unleashed within 45 minutes, the resistance is now being reduced to a single hoodlum.
Meanwhile, in the name of building democracy, the Iraqi people's democratic rights have been crushed. Instead of an elected constitutional assembly we have a CIA-appointed puppet government. Trade union leaders have been detained by the occupation forces and their offices destroyed. The US proconsul Paul Bremer, and later the US-appointed Ayad Allawi regime, have reintroduced a 1987 law of Saddam's banning strikes in the state sector.
Iraqi workers are nevertheless fighting back. Last month the Southern Oil Company Union staged a successful strike to halt oil exports and help force the US to lift its bombardment of Najaf. But Labour's conference will hear little or nothing of this, whether from Tony Blair and his ministers or from pro-occupation Iraqis masquerading as supporters of free trade unionism and self-determination in Iraq.
Such insidious misrepresentation of reality helps keep people of conscience in Britain and the US from having sleepless nights about the children daily killed in their name or the trade unionists hounded by Saddamist torturers enlisted by the occupation.
One might regret this "collateral damage", the government argues, but it is all in a good cause: fighting not against the Iraqi people, but to save them from Zarqawi.
Britain is morally and politically responsible for the current US bombardment of Iraqi cities. Indeed, Britain's role in the war is now politically decisive. The announcement of a phased British withdrawal, to be completed by the end of the year, would be the desperately needed move to force President Bush to change direction.
The impact of such a decision on the US public would be huge. Blair, speaking on behalf of the British people, played a key role in helping Bush dupe America about WMD. Were that support withdrawn, Bush would either have to change direction or risk losing the election. The impact on Democrat candidate Kerry's campaign would surely be no less dramatic, forcing him to accept that the Iraqi people's struggle for freedom is unstoppable. Once free, the Iraqi people would certainly sweep away Zarqawi's tiny gang, who appear to have little trouble slipping in and out of Iraq under the occupation regime.
Labour delegates have it in their gift today to hold their leaders to account and uphold the cause of peace and self-determination. If they fail to seize that chance, we are all likely to pay the price.
· Sami Ramadani was a political refugee from Saddam Hussein's regime and is a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University
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