The war on Iraq was illegal, immoral and devastating. In the region of half a million people died. Many thousands more suffered from, and often died from, preventable diseases, from the impact of cluster bombs and from cancers caused by radiation poisoning from depleted uranium munitions. That the British government took us into that war on the basis of a tissue of lies demonstrates the extraordinary moral bankruptcy of our political system. President Bush attempted to use the tragedy of 9/11 to further US interests in the Middle East by imposing regime change on Iraq, and the craven Tony Blair backed him up, first with falsehoods, then with weapons and lives, telling us that Britain had to pay the ‘blood price’ for our alliance with the US.
In those terrible yet remarkable days, twenty years ago, it was the mass movement that mobilised for truth, for peace and justice; that fought to prevent the killing, to stop the war. Opposition to the war internationally was overwhelming, and tens of millions across the globe protested; we spoke for the global majority and we were, for a while, ‘the second superpower’.
Three forces came together to organise the demonstration in London: the Stop the War Coalition, the Muslim Association of Britain, and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Between us, and the many organisations that supported our call, we mobilised up to two million people in London that day. It was the biggest demonstration that had ever taken place in Britain.
The establishment did everything it could to prevent the march and rally going ahead, but we refused to be deterred and with political determination and huge backing we were victorious. The weight of support across society meant they had to give way. Eventually even mainstream newspapers were advertising the route of the march – one even produced their own anti-war placards.
Tony Blair went ahead with his illegal war, but the political impact of that demonstration was felt for many years, eventually bringing him down. There are clear lessons from that time: to understand what it is possible for the movement – for people united, engaged – to achieve; to understand what it really going on in the world – the relationship between neo-liberalism and war; and to grasp the essential role of international coordination and solidarity. Since then we have seen many attacks on our movement as the establishment has sought to destroy what was won. But we are fighting back, now more than ever, as the world faces new wars and there are threats of worse to come. It is our responsibility to be united, to continue to learn the lessons of those days – and to continue the fight against neo-liberalism and war.