Five years after the big anti Iraq war demonstrations of 2003

A video from Britain which was on YouTube said about itself:

Manchester Iraq Demo. 15th February 2003

I couldn’t get to London on 15th February 2003 because of health reasons. But I did attend a local demo in Manchester in Piccadilly Gardens. Before I set off, I watched the huge London demo on TV news. There were shots of the march from a helicopter hovering over Parliament.

The news man in the chopper was obviously gob-smacked at the sheer size and scale of the demo. I recall him saying excitedly: “I’ve never seen anything quite like this!” The footage from the chopper showed the streets along the route from Hyde Park to Parliament completely full of demonstrators–wall to wall all the way. And this was only part of one of two separate legs that set off from opposite sides of London.

And then the camera panned to the left showing the march extending onwards away from Parliament to the point where the two legs of the march converged and then onwards into the distance-wall to wall all the way. My family was watching and they were expressing amazement at what they were seeing. That footage has never been shown on TV since to my knowledge and probably never will for many years to come. I wonder if anyone recorded it?

Several members of my family–including my twenty something daughter who is not normally interested in politics–attended the Manchester march which was tiny in comparison to the London demo, but still inspiring.

The gathering in Manchester built up to around a thousand people. We marched down to the Peace Gardens in St Peter’s Square and held a spirited rally. I filmed the whole thing. This clip shows some of it. I phoned up the local TV offices–BBC and Granada–and offered the footage to them. The BBC man said he wasn’t interested and I got the same brush off from Granada. I even phoned up the national BBC–it was a sort of wind up to rub their bloody noses in it–but they were not interested in hearing about even more people marching in the “provinces”.

I later saw on the web that there were local demos in various other British cities in addition to London and Manchester. 700 marched in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands.

Does anyone know of any other local demos on the Glorious 15th?

Visit the Greater Manchester Stop the War Coalition website:

By Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War Coalition in Britain, in daily The Guardian:

We didn’t stop that war, but may have stopped the next

Five years ago, the biggest political protest in our history served to explode the myth of public apathy

Wednesday February 13 2008

Five years ago this week most readers of this newspaper were making plans to go on a demonstration. More surprisingly, just as many Daily Telegraph readers were getting ready for the same event. For most of those who marched against the Iraq war on February 15 2003 it was the first time they had ever demonstrated for or against anything in their lives. It was a protest such as Britain had never seen before, all-embracing in its diversity and imposing in its unity of purpose.

While there are always arguments over the size of demonstrations (the 2 million-or-so figure we claim is supported by considerable polling and photographic evidence), there is no dispute that this was not merely the country’s biggest political protest, but the biggest by a substantial order of magnitude.

Two things are obvious about the demonstration to “stop the war”. First, the millions on the march were right. Not just right on balance, but right on every single aspect of the question. There were no weapons of mass destruction, Iraq did turn into a bloodbath, the invasion did not help resolve the crisis in the Middle East, and it did damage the cohesion of our own society and imperil our civil liberties while not making us one whit safer from terrorism. So the people were smarter than the politicians.

Second the demonstration did not stop the war. Our hope had been that mass protest could drive the British government out of its aggressive alliance with Bush and that the latter, isolated internationally as a result, would come under intensified domestic pressure. We came very close, as Donald Rumsfeld made clear. In the wake of February 15, Washington told Blair he could stand down our army if he wanted to.

The prime minister ignored that offer and the people he represents alike. However, failing is not the same thing as making no difference. February 15 has cast a long shadow over British politics since, and contributed to Blair‘s departure from office under circumstances – in public odium and with an exasperated party – scarcely of his choosing. What war have we stopped? The next one, perhaps.

The demonstration was the apex of a broader movement which touched almost every part of society in 2003. This included the greatest-ever engagement of British Muslims in active politics, thousands of school student walkouts, peaceful civil disruption in towns across the country, local authorities coming out against the war, and train drivers declining to move munitions for the invasion.

See also here.


25 thoughts on “Five years after the big anti Iraq war demonstrations of 2003

  1. Canada’s “Open Secret”: Deep Complicity in the Iraq War
    By Richard Sanders, Editor, Press for Conversion!
    Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade

    A Canadian Brig. Gen., Nicolas Matern, has just arrived in Baghdad. This former commander of Canada’s Joint Task Force 2 counter-terrorism unit is the deputy commander of the US 18th Airborne Corps and he now reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin III, who leads the 170,000-strong Multi-National Corps-Iraq. Its primary task is to conduct “offensive operations to defeat remaining non-compliant forces.”

    Matern is the third Canadian Forces (CF) general to help lead a command group overseeing the U.S.-led war in Iraq. His predecessor, CF Maj. Gen. Peter Devlin was the Deputy Commander General of the Multi-National Force-Iraq since December 2006.

    Prior to Devlin’s posting, which started in January 2004, CF Maj. Gen. Walt Natynczyk commanded ten brigades totalling 35,000 troops stationed throughout Iraq. When Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson gave Natynczyk Canada’s Meritorious Service Cross, her office extolled his “pivotal role in the development of numerous plans and operations [which] resulted in a tremendous contribution to…Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, and…brought great credit to the Canadian Forces and to Canada.”

    It may come as a surprise to most Canadians­including many peace activists in this country­that Canada is even involved in the Iraq war. Even more shocking may be the news that the provision of top CF personnel to command posts in Iraq is but one example among many contributions that the Canadian government has made to this US-led war.

    Unfortunately, the Liberal government’s 2003 pretence that Canada was opting out of participation in Iraq has been repeated so many times that it has become accepted as the truth. Even when presented with multifarious examples of Canada’s complicity in this war, some Canadians are loath to believe it. The fact that the Canadian government has been a major player in the Iraq war since its very inception, also directly contradicts the powerful national myth that Canada is a global force for peace.

    This Canadian myth has taken on the appearance of a state religion and some of its faithful adherents demonstrate a strong reluctance to question it. This is evident in Rabble’s online “leftwing discussion forum” (called Babble) where a debate has raged since the publication of an earlier version of this article appeared in Vancouver’s Common Ground magazine (February 2008).

    To read and/or join the discussion about Canada’s role in the Iraq war, please click this link:

    While many Canadians, even some on the “left,” have difficulty accepting the reality that Canada is deeply engaged in the Iraq war, this fact was admitted early on by then-U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci. On March 25, 2003, during the “shock and awe” bombardment of Iraq, Cellucci gratefully acknowledged to members of the posh Economic Club of Toronto, that “ironically, Canadian naval vessels, aircraft and personnel…will supply more support to this war in Iraq indirectly…than most of those 46 countries that are fully supporting our efforts there.”

    Although Cellucci’s statement merely scratched the surface of Canada’s initial “support” for the Iraq war, at least he let the cat out of the bag. As then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had explained a week earlier, “We now have a coalition of the willing…who have publicly said they could be included in such a listing…. And there are 15 other nations, who, for one reason or another do not wish to be publicly named but will be supporting the coalition.”

    Canada was, and still is, the leading member of this secret group, which we could perhaps call CW-HUSH, the “Coalition of the Willing to Help but Unwilling to be Seen Helping.”

    The plan worked. Most Canadians still proudly believe that their government refused to join the Iraq war. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here are some of the ways in which our government joined the fray:

    Protecting and Supporting the Coalition Navy:
    Thirteen hundred Canadian troops aboard four of Canada’s multibillion dollar warships escorted the multinational fleet, including US aircraft carriers, through the Persian Gulf and right up to the shores of Kuwait, thus putting them safely in place to bomb Iraq. Besides performing such “force-protection operations,” Canadian frigates also contributed vital “fleet-support” functions to coalition warships.

    Leading the Coalition Navy:
    Canadian Rear-Admiral Roger Girouard commanded Coalition Task Force 151, leading 20 warships from six countries during the “shock and awe” bombardment of Iraq which killed thousands of innocent people.

    Providing War Planners:
    At least two dozen Canadian war planners working at U.S. Central Command in Florida were transferred to the Persian Gulf in early 2003 to help oversee the war’s complicated logistics.

    Helping Coordinate the War:
    Canadian military personnel, working aboard American E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System warplanes, helped direct the electronic war by providing surveillance, command, control and communications services to US warfighters.

    Providing Airspace and Refuelling:
    Countless U.S. warplanes carrying troops and equipment have flown over Canada, to and from the Iraq war. With as many as two or three such flights a day and carrying about a thousand US troops to battle, many such warplanes were allowed to refuel in Gander, Newfoundland.

    Providing Air Transport:
    At least three Canadian CC-130 military transport planes were listed by the U.S. military as helping supply coalition forces during the Iraq war.

    Freeing up U.S. Troops:
    Canada’s major role in the Afghan war has freed up many thousands of U.S. troops for deployment to Iraq.

    Providing Ground Troops:
    At least 35 Canadian soldiers were directly under U.S. command, in an exchange capacity, on the ground, participating in the invasion of Iraq.

    Facilitating US Weapons Testing:
    Two types of cruise missiles (AGM-86 and -129) and the Global Hawk (RQ-4A) surveillance drone, used in Iraq, were tested over Canada.

    Depleted Uranium (DU) Weapons:
    Canada is the world’s top exporter of uranium. Our government pretends that Canada’s uranium is sold for peaceful purposes only, but absolutely nothing is done to stop the U.S. from using DU in their weapons. America’s A-10 Wart Hog warplanes have fired DU munitions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, while each cruise missile contains three kgs of DU ballast.

    Providing RADARSAT Data:
    Eagle Vision, a U.S. Air Force mobile ground station which controls Canada’s RADARSAT-1 satellite and downlinks its data was used from the start of the Iraq war. Since December 2007, RADARSAT-2 data has also been available to US warfighters in Iraq.

    Diplomatic Support:
    Then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien supported the right of the U.S. to invade Iraq, although Kofi Annan said it was an illegal occupation. Chrétien “urged Canadians…not to criticise the US for attacking Iraq,” saying that to do so “would comfort Saddam Hussein.”

    Training Iraqi Police:
    Canada has spent millions sending RCMP officers to Jordan to train tens of thousands of cadets for Iraq’s paramilitary police force.

    Training Iraqi Troops:
    High-level Canadian military personnel joined the NATO Training Mission in Iraq to train the trainers of Iraqi Security Forces who are on the leading edge of the U.S. occupation. A Canadian colonel, under NATO command, was chief of staff at the Baghdad-based training mission. Canada was the leading donor to this centre, providing an initial $810 thousand.

    Funding Iraq’s Interior Ministry:
    Canada provides advisors and financial support to this Ministry which has been caught running torture centres. Thousands of its officers have been withdrawn for corruption, and it has been accused of working with death squads that executed a thousand people per month in Baghdad alone during the summer of 2006.

    Military Exports:
    At least 100 Canadian companies sold parts and/or services for major weapons systems used in the Iraq war. For example, Quebec-based SNC-TEC sold millions of bullets to the U.S. military forces occupying Iraq. General Dynamics Canada, in London Ontario, sold hundreds of armoured vehicles to the US and Australia. Between October 2003 and November 2005, these troop transport vehicles logged over 6 million miles in Iraq. And, Winnipeg’s Bristol Aerospace sells cluster-bomb dispensing warheads used by US aircraft in Iraq.

    Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Investments:
    The CPP forces working Canadians outside Quebec to invest their pension money in hundreds of military industries, including most of the world’s top 20 weapons producers. These CPP investments include the leading prime contractors for virtually all the major US weapons systems used in Iraq.

    So, the next time a proud fellow citizen tells you that Canada didn’t join the Iraq war, refer them to this article and then remind them of Mark Twain’s famous qwip:

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.
    It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

    For more information, on the myth of Canada’s role as a global peacemaker, read Press for Conversion! and visit the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) website An annual subscription to COAT’s magazine is $25. COAT, 541 McLeod St., Ottawa ON K1R 5R2. Email:


  2. The movement kept Canada out of the war – the number 3 bomber in Serbia and number 4 bomber in the 1991 Gulf War. Now the Canadian state is having trouble keeping 2500 troops in Afghanistan. The anti-war movement has made an enormous difference and while it hasn’t saved Iraq it has held back attacks on Iran and, probably, Venezuela.

    Only the linear, moronic thinking of the mainstream press can put forth the argument that because Feb.15 didn’t stop the war, it was a failure. It’s unfortunate that so many people have bought into this lie.



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