February 15th

On this day in 2003, protests against the imminent Iraq War were coordinated across the world by a network of social movement organisations. The BBC estimated that between six and eleven million people took to the streets in up to sixty counties, the largest rallies in Rome (3m) and Madrid (1.5m), but its possible that there was up to thirty million protesters. Perhaps the largest mass protest event in human history.

peace_demonstration_in_rome3b_feb_15_2003

Rome (estimated to be the largest rally)

The US officially declared an intention to invade Iraq at the United Nations General Assembly  on September 12 2002. President George W. Bush addressed the assembly and called for UN sponsored action, arguing that the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein was in violation  of UN restrictions of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). British Prime Minister Blair had urged Bush to seek an international resolution which would give legitimacy to the invasion, he had given unwavering support and was willing to play a huge part in a war coalition. As the Chilcot Report revealed, Blair was entirely complicit to the US, declaring to President Bush “I will be with you, whatever” in a June 2002 memo. However, although Blair argued that Hussein had failed to comply with the January 2003 UN resolution 1441, which threatened ‘serious consequences’ if the Iraqi government did not disarm, the ambiguity of the resolution has left the legality of the invasion in question. Even initial supporters of the so-called ‘war on terror’ following 9/11, and NATO members, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder and French President Jacques Chirac, had coordinated their opposition to the invasion of Iraq by January 2003, opting for a peaceful resolution.

Digital: GWB: NATO work session

For the UK, where an estimated one million took to the streets on February 14th, protest against Iraq arguably marked a low point for Parliamentary Democracy. A poll that weekend put opposition to the war at 52% and support at just 29%. However, public opinion was completely disregarded by Tony Blair and the 412 MPs who approved the motion for Her Majesty’s Government to use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction on March 18th 2003. The Prime Minister’s power to declare war was already invested in the Royal Prerogative, with a Parliamentary debate and vote merely symbolic. Parliament’s actions served only to foster widespread apathy and distrust with the political class, which has continued to this day. Furthermore, the mass protest of February 15th 2003 was arguably the foundation of ‘grassroots globalisation’, where social movements can coordinate their activity internationally, as seen with the recent protests criticising President Trump.

Summary of the main findings of the Iraq Inquiry (2016): https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jul/06/iraq-inquiry-key-points-from-the-chilcot-report

 

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  1. Pingback: February 20th | The FeedBack

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