TWENTY years ago today two million marched for peace in the biggest protest in British history.
The London demonstration formed just one of scores of marches against the US’s stated plan to invade Iraq which maybe mobilised 30 million people worldwide.
Despite a barrage of lies and war propaganda echoed by the BBC and most major newspapers, polls showed a solid majority of the British people were against the war.
But the government went ahead nonetheless. This was the crime of the century: not the first of the wars of aggression that the US and its allies embarked on during Washington’s “unipolar moment” after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the largest and most consequential.
It was also the most blatantly unprovoked. Unlike Yugoslavia or Libya, where Nato effectively took sides in a local conflict to advance its destructive agenda, the Iraq crisis was entirely fabricated. The US and British governments knew their case against Iraq was based on lies.
The aim was not to meet a non-existent threat but to advance the Project for the New American Century — to secure control of the Middle East to usher in a 21st century of unchallenged US global dominance.
Iraq was reduced to bloody chaos. A surge in extreme jihadist terror followed across Iraq itself and way beyond: this would later spread terror across the Muslim world — from west Africa to the western reaches of China — and occasionally in the West itself, with bloody outrages visited on London, Manchester, Paris. George W Bush and Tony Blair were the midwives of Islamic State.
At home, Blair’s Terrorism Acts began a march towards suppression of civil liberties that has picked up pace ever since. A political elite ever more divorced from the concerns of the majority opts for repression where it cannot persuade.
The Project for a New American Century continues. The quest to maintain hegemony now has bigger targets in sight than Iraq, as the US militarises the Pacific and — as Israeli politician Naftali Bennett recently acknowledged — blocks peace talks in Ukraine to entangle Europe in bloody, endless stalemate.
Iraq was a catastrophic sacrifice of human life on the altar of US power. War with Russia, China or both would be an unimaginably larger-scale nightmare, one that would entail tens, maybe hundreds of millions of dead and the long-term poisoning of huge swathes of our planet.
It must be stopped, as we did not stop Iraq. But for all that Bush and Blair went ahead, the February 15 2003 demonstration was not futile.
The anti-war movement changed the country’s mind. It built a deep and justified scepticism about our rulers’ motivations. It helped stop Britain joining the Syrian war in 2013, and helped bring about the Jeremy Corbyn movement from 2015.
That movement too has gone down to defeat; and Labour’s new management are as committed to the Tories to forever war.
But we can learn from it. That a different kind of politics can get a mass hearing in Britain, even for a cause as despised in Whitehall as peace — as Corbyn proved when he challenged British foreign policy’s connection to global terrorism in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing.
Socialists nervous of speaking out when the Labour leader threatens anyone criticising Nato with excommunication should think again.
The Westminster left’s silence puts it out of step internationally. Brazilian President Lula’s declaration that “our war is against poverty, not Russia” and refusal to be drawn into the Ukraine conflict is in tune with the sentiments of billions. South-South co-operation should not be seen as a threat but an opportunity to build a different kind of world.
But to make that different world a reality we have work to do. Voices for peace are being silenced across Europe. Unless we can make them heard, Iraq will have been a foreword to a century of bloodshed.
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