More than 100,000 anti-war protesters from across Britain marched in London last Saturday against three years of occupation in Iraq and the threats of a military attack on Iran.
The demonstration, organised by the Stop the War Coalition, CND and the Muslim Association of Britain, was young and lively. It brought together all strands of the anti-war movement.
“Blair wants us to forget about the war, but I haven’t forgotten,” said Abdul Khan, a young man from Walsall in the West Midlands. a“They’re now targeting Iran and Syria. They want to go on and on. Blair is guilty, though he won’t admit it,” he added.
The mood of anger against Blair was expressed in the response to speakers at the rally in Trafalgar Square that followed the march.
“A journalist asked me why this demonstration seemed to have a spring in its step,” said George Galloway, Respect MP for Bethnal Green & Bow.
“I told him it’s because people across this country can sense that justice is coming for the war criminal Tony Blair.”
Galloway urged people to punish Blair at the local elections on 4 May – a link also made by Craig Murray, the human rights campaigner and former British ambassador to Uzbekistan.
“We need British troops out of Iraq – and Tony Blair out of Downing Street,” he said.
Opposition to any threat of a military attack on Iran was a key demand of the demonstration.
Elaheh Rostami Povey from Action Iran condemned the mainstream media for parroting Pentagon propaganda.
She called for people to campaign against any attacks or sanctions directed against the country by the US.
One highlight of the rally was the appearance of Sheikh Zagani, foreign affairs spokesperson for Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Iraqi political leader and Shia cleric.
He spoke of his happiness to see so many British people demonstrating against the occupation of Iraq. He made a point of acknowledging the presence of Military Families Against the War on the platform.
“I send condolences in the name of most Iraqi people to the families of soldiers who have lost their lives in this unjust war,” he said. “Iraqi people have no hatred against British people. This war is harming both peoples.
“Do not get tired of demonstrating and protesting. We are the voice of humanity, and we have to continue fighting.”
Ben Griffin told the rally, “I was a member of the SAS and served last year in Iraq. What I saw there wasn’t consistent with ‘bringing democracy’ to the country – it was treating Iraqis with utter contempt.
“Since coming out about my decision to leave the army I’ve had lots of support from soldiers in the army who agree with what I’ve said. I’d like to tell Tony Blair, it’s not God that will judge you – it’s us.”
Abu Bakr Deghayes said, “My brother Omar was kidnapped by the US army four years ago and is being held as a hostage in Guantanamo Bay.
“Tony Blair recently called Guantanamo an ‘anomaly’. But it’s not an ‘anomaly’, it’s a purposely built facility for torture.
“The aim of Guantanamo is to scare people from standing up against tyrants like Blair and Bush. But there’s no way they can scare us. We will win this war, through the support of decent human beings across the world.”
Military families demand troops must come home
A number of military families joined the protest.
Neville and Gabrielle, who have a family member in the armed forces who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, told Socialist Worker, “We felt we had to attend the demonstration because of the way Tony Blair has deceived the British public over the reasons for sending our armed forces into Iraq.
“The prime minister’s apparent ambivalence as to the gravity of his decision was based upon the conviction that ‘he thought it was the right thing to do’. He was happy to holiday with his family in the sands of the Caribbean, while our troops were dying in the sands of Iraq.
“His obsession with his political legacy has led to our troops being used as an extension of his own ego to be used and manipulated for his own vainglorious ends.
“Now, with the further deployment of troops to Afghanistan, the biggest and most hazardous military operation since the invasion of Iraq is underway in Helmand province – hostile territory at the heart of the opium poppy area. The British public are being misled yet again.
“For the last two years we have demonstrated in Brighton against the Iraq war.
“The prime minister’s continuing refusal to meet with the bereaved service families of the Iraq war is indicative of the mindset of a man who is in denial of the truth.
“Blair out of office. Troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Protesting against new wars and occupation
The march was filled with young people, many of whom were taking part in their first demonstration.
The war in Iraq was not the only issue referred to during the march, as many protesters raised fears and concerns regarding any military intervention in Iran.
Jess Hall travelled from Brighton to show what she called “pre-emptive” action against any military intervention against Iran.
She said, “After watching recent events at home with horror, I feel very concerned that the reasons given for any potential strike against Iran would not be the real reasons.”
Another protester said, “I was against the war from the beginning and because of it I have resigned from the Labour Party.”
Andy Richards, branch chair of Brighton Unison, told Socialist Worker, “Unison is joining the strike over pensions on Tuesday of next week.
“The money that is being spent on the war in Iraq could be used to close the pensions gap.”
Many protesters felt it was important that they kept marching, visibly showing the world that they still cared.
Rebecca from Lambeth, south London, said that “it needed people to come out” and show opposition.
“Just because its three years doesn’t mean we have forgotten, even if the politicians ignore us.”