In mid-March, hundreds of thousands of anti-war activists demonstrated around the world to mark the first anniversary of the U.S. led war in Iraq and call for an end to the occupation. Although there were fewer protesters than last year before the invasion began, some analysts say they were energized by Spain’s recent decision to pull its troops out of Iraq. VOA’s Brent Hurd reports a world review of the protests and what influence they may have on U.S. policy.
On March 20th, the rising sun cast its first light on demonstrators in New Zealand and Australia. In Sydney, tens of thousands protested Australia’s involvement in the Iraq invasion and claimed it has made their country a target of terrorism. One woman spoke for many others: “I am just a regular Australian person and all I can say is you must have wanted destabilization and on top of that you breached international law.”
Prime Minister John Howard sent 2,000 troops to Iraq last year, upsetting many Australians. Some analysts say he could lose the election later this year because of his support of Washington’s war on terror.
Protesters marched peacefully throughout Asia, in major cities in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand, India and elsewhere. Thirty thousand people turned out in Tokyo to protest Japan’s decision to send one thousand troops to Iraq -- its largest foreign deployment since the Second World War.
Anti-war sentiment turned anti-American in the streets of Cairo, where hundreds of protesters burned U.S. flags and chanted anti-war slogans. Demonstrators -- vastly outnumbered by riot police -- voiced their disdain over U.S. policy in Iraq. “It’s very simple. End occupation. We don’t want them to occupy the Middle East,” said one Egyptian protestor.
Hundreds of people gathered in other Middle Eastern capitals to denounce the war.
In Europe, rallies spanned the continent. Hundreds of thousands of anti-war activists filled squares in Rome, many wearing rainbow-colored peace flags proclaiming “Together through Peace.” A placard in Copenhagen read “Do like Spain, Pull out the Troops.”
Tens of thousands also marched in London, angry at what they called deception by the Tony Blair government over Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Two Greenpeace activists eluded police and climbed the Big Ben Clock Tower near the houses of Parliament to unfurl a large banner that read “Time for Truth.”
Greenpeace Executive Director Stephen Tindale wants Tony Blair to take notice: “The purpose of this is to send a clear message to the prime minister and to parliament that we are fed up with the evasions and half-truths that we have been getting about Iraq for 18 months now. And that it is time to tell us the whole truth about why we went to war.”
As morning reached North America, tens of thousands of Americans marched in Chicago, San Francisco, New York and other cities. Many of them called for the United States to withdraw its troops from Iraq.
June Bonrudin: “I think we are all saying it together,” said protestor June Bonrudin. “We have had it with Bush. We do not want war. We want to bring our boys home in a mannerly fashion.” Also on the scene was student Megan McRobert. “We were at protests over a year ago,” she said, “and we wanted to come out to say that we are still against the war.”
While the turnout was high in some nations, most of the protests were far smaller than the massive demonstrations held around the world shortly before the war began last March. At that time, an estimated six to 10 million people marched in some 60 countries, the largest demonstrations of their kind since the Vietnam War protests of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.
Small counter demonstrations supporting the Bush Administration’s decision to go to war took place in some U.S. cities.
At the White House on the day of the demonstrations, President Bush said the fall of Saddam Hussein had removed a source of violence, aggression and instability in the Middle East and was good for the Iraqi people, good for America and good for the world.
Analysts are divided over how much impact the protests will have on U.S. policy in the region. Michael Hudson, professor of international relations at Georgetown University here in Washington, doubts they will lead to change.
“My impression is that at the very highest levels of the U.S. government these demonstrations will not dissuade them from what they feel is the right path,” he says. “I think it will take many more demonstrations on a much larger scale before you begin to see the top leadership itself get demoralized. But certainly such demonstrations could galvanize ordinary people who are just uncertain about the war in Iraq, to decide that yes, it really was a bad idea and we really are in a bad dilemma and that this administration has made a very big mistake.”
Perhaps the protests will not concern the Bush administration says Maurice Isserman, professor of history at Hamilton College in New York and author of America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s. But the Democratic opposition is another matter.
“The anti-war movement has had an enormous impact that can be seen in the history of the Democratic primary this year,” he says, “where Howard Dean emerged as a single issue candidate about the war. I don’t think we would have seen his candidacy if it had not been for the protests in the streets a year ago, certainly not with the degree of fervor and support it initially had. Moreover, we have John Kerry emerging as the Democratic Party’s nominee -- largely on an anti-war platform, which was not the case last year.”
Professor Isserman says the fervor of the anti-war protesters could be channeled into the upcoming 2004 presidential election. He also notes the number of U.S. casualties will influence opinion of the war.
“The end result is that since the formal ending of hostilities last spring, more American military personnel have died than in the war and there is no end in sight,” he says. “We have reached a point now where some 550 military personnel have died since the start of the conflict. That’s more soldiers, marines and airmen than died in the Vietnam conflict in the first four years of the war. This is a very serious and ongoing conflict, and that’s exactly what the anti-war movement was warning a year ago.”
Despite the mounting casualties, Michael Hudson says a slight majority of Americans still support of the Bush administration. The most recent polls show that nearly 60% say the government was right in going to war in Iraq. “My guess is that the administration leaders will calculate that the American public will ultimately back them and that people who are calling for an end to the war will be seen as defeatist and not a serious domestic political threat,” Mr. Hudson says.
Most analysts say much depends on how the war goes. As in the case of the Vietnam War, the longer it lasts, the more likelihood of growing anti-war protests. A more rapid end to the war would, in turn, remove the need to protest.
VOA Reporters Phil Mercer, Kerry Sheridan, Tom Rivers and Jenny Falcon contributed to this report,