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15 February 2003: the day two million marched for peace

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Next week sees the third anniversary of the great London demonstration against war in Iraq of 15 February 2003. Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War Coalition, and leading anti?war activist Jane Shallice look back.
Issue 1987

Next week sees the third anniversary of the great London demonstration against war in Iraq of 15 February 2003. Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War Coalition, and leading anti?war activist Jane Shallice look back.

The two million strong march on 15 February 2003 was the high point of an extraordinary mass mobilisation against the war planned against Iraq by George Bush and Tony Blair.

The waves of that mass movement have rocked British politics ever since. They have defined the political parameters of the Iraq question in public opinion – and Blair has yet to escape its shadow.

Every disaster arising from the occupation of Iraq, every revelation about the lies told in advance of the aggression, the deaths of British soldiers – all of these have amounted to a crisis for the government, rather than mere passing difficulties.

This is precisely because of the huge mobilisation of the people against the war before it had started. Had there been widespread acquiescence to the Iraq war, then these events would not have resonated in the way they have.

It is now very difficult for the British government to embark on another such US-led war. This unity of those opposed to imperialism and disunity among imperialists are greatly prized objectives.

It is also a real source of strength to those fighting against the US-British occupation in Iraq. The resistance to the US and British military has been the main factor in rendering the occupation such a global political disaster. And Stop the War has always upheld the right of Iraqis to resist the occupation, including by force if they wish.

But that resistance is not on a scale that could force a withdrawal of troops by armed struggle alone. It is the interaction of resistance in Iraq with public mobilisation against the occupation in the US and Britain that provides the possibility of defeat for the “new world order” on its front line.

The legacy of 15 February 2003 lives on. The recent upswing in student support for Stop the War probably reflects the progress of the school student activists of that year into colleges and universities.

The sustained mass campaign against the occupation of Iraq is without precedent in the sorry history of British imperialism, and rests on the work done three years ago. The demo on 18 March this year must be the next manifestation of that campaign.

Andrew Murray

Iraq had been in the headlines for at least six months by 15 February 2003. The anti-war movement created in response to the insanity of Bush’s “war on terror” had been catalysed by the war in Afghanistan. But by August 2002, Iraq was clearly next in line.

Using spurious statements about “weapons of mass destruction”, lies about uranium from Niger and false allegations of Iraqi links to Al Qaeda, Bush and Blair were winding up to attack. They claimed “regime change” would bring democracy throughout the Middle East. But this did not wash.

The vast mass of people throughout the world saw through the lies used to justify a new imperialism. What burst onto the scene in February 2003 was an unparalleled global anti-war movement.

Confronting the state machines and their huge military budgets designed to impose the new imperium, millions of people filled London, Rome, New York, as well as towns and cities in Spain, Australia, Japan, Canada and many more.

Was this huge new movement defeated? Of course we did not stop the war. But Bush and Blair did not win their war. Their decision to open Pandora’s box has brought death, destruction and political instability on an unanticipated scale.

Iraq is now a political constant in all parts of the world. The massive numbers of people who were mobilised saw, in anger and horror, the rejection of their demands. This rejection undermines the charade of parliamentary democracy.

The constant leaking out of news about the terrible situation faced daily by the Iraqi people—a situation created by the warmongers in Washington and London—only emphasises that there have to be alternatives to the present system.

The corpses of the Iraqis slaughtered and killed since 2003 are fixed to the heels of Tony Blair. Those of us who tried to stop the war have a responsibility to never let him forget that.

Jane Shallice

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