Thousands of people marched in central London, and hundreds protested in other towns and cities, on Saturday against war with Iran.
The protests, called by the Stop the War coalition, come at the end of a week that saw the US and Iran teetering on the brink of war.
Some 2,000 people joined the march in London called by the Stop the War coalition. Hundreds protested in other cities, including 200 in Liverpool and 150 in Newcastle. Rallies were also held in Chesterfield, Harrogate, Manchester, Sheffield and Bristol.
It came after the US assassinated top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Friday of last week. The act of war sparked a retaliation from Iran that included missile strikes on US bases in Iraq and the accidental downing of a passenger plane.
Marchers in London were determined to stand against the horror and destruction that a war with Iran would bring.
One marcher, Joey, said, “For people in Iran, a war would mean thousands of people dying. This is something everyone should be able to oppose—no one should support this war.”
Another protester, Ellie, said war would mean “needless bloodshed. But we can make a difference by standing together and doing this.”
And Yasmina said she was worried about what the latest standoff could lead to. “Tensions have already been rising,” she said. “I saw that since the assassination Iran has pulled out of the agreement that stopped them from enriching uranium.”
Speakers at the rally in Trafalgar Square said the biggest threat of war came from the US and its president Donald Trump.
The US has waged wars and propped up repressive regimes in the Middle East to control the region. Now Trump wants to use violence and threats of war to push back Iran’s growing influence, which is a challenge to the US’s dominance.
Stop the War convener Lindsey German said, “The situation with Iran today isn’t one that started last week. It goes back in history to the ways that imperialism has ravaged the Middle East.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was more cautious and at times appeared to criticise both the US and Iran as if they were equals. “There is no excuse for shooting down an airliner. And there is no excuse for targeted assassination by one state against another,” he said.
He called for “talks and negotiations” with Iran.
But he also called for Britain to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia and in “every conflict the region”. And he blamed the situation in the Middle East on the West’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, which he opposed with the Stop the War coalition at the time.
“We said the consequences of a war in Iraq will lead to the wars of tomorrow. That will lead to the terrorism of tomorrow. That will lead to the ruination of people’s lives of tomorrow. And that will lead to the refugees of tomorrow,” he said.
Meanwhile Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott attacked Boris Johnson for not condemning the assassination of Soleimani.
The immediate threat of war appears to have fallen back after Iran hit back with its missile strike on US bases on Tuesday night.
But the downing of the Ukrainian airliner shows the unintended consequences the US’s wargames in the Middle East can have.
Not only can it lead to appalling loss of life—176 people were killed—but such an incident could spark retaliations that spiral uncontrollably into war.
And through Trump has backed off for now, his aggression—and the threat of war in the future—makes it vital to oppose him with a mass anti-war movement.