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  • Published in Stop the war

Those of us who protested ten years ago were right to do so and the world would be a much better place if instead of being vilified we had we been listened to

Iraqi families flee Basra, 2003. Image: AFPTen years ago today hundreds of thousands of us struck in schools and workplaces, rallied, blocked roads, demonstrated in every town and city across the country.

The following Saturday half a million of us marched angrily through central London just days after the bombing of Baghdad had brought a new meaning to shock and awe.

We have continued protesting ever since, through failure to find WMD, the scandals of Abu Ghraib, the destruction of Fallujah, the attacks on oil workers, the privatisation of industry and security forces, the deaths of over 1 million and the displacement of millions more.

British troops were forced to withdraw in 2009, defeated by resistance in Iraq and a level of public opposition in Britain which the government always assumed would subside when the war started.

Everyone who protested in any way has the right to feel proud, vindicated…and angry.

Angry at the loss of life, at the destruction of a country, at the wars which have now spread across the Middle East and into Africa, and which show no sign of abating.

But when we look at the balance sheet of the war, some of our greatest anger should be reserved for those who knew there was not a case for war, but did nothing.

What do you say about someone who has the opportunity to stop a disastrous war but does not? About people in positions of power and authority who refused to challenge or defy a prime minister gripped by a warmongering psychosis and a maniacal certainty? Perhaps the most awful feature of the tenth anniversary of the Iraq war is that there were rather a large number of such people at the time who failed to let the rest of us in on the secret. Now expressing the reservations they had ten years ago, they are desperate to distance themselves from the consequences of their inaction.

There are less than a handful remaining of the media cheerleaders for war - like David Aaronovitch in the Times and John Rentoul in the Independent - who are still defending the indefensible, popping up wherever they can to pronounce on the evils of dictators and the wisdom of Tony Blair. But they form a very thin red line of Blair defenders.

And It apparently does not include the top figures in the military. Richard Norton Taylor in the Guardian talked to some of them and to a man they seem highly critical. Some of it is couched in terms of condemning the lack of preparation for occupation and the dismantling of the Iraqi army. Much of it lays the blame on the US government. But some make it clear that they were pressured by Blair. According to Norton-Taylor:

'Lord Boyce, then chief of the defence staff, said he …. questioned the legality of the war until he got an eve-of-invasion note from the attorney general's office telling him that Blair's "unequivocal" view was an attack on Iraq would be lawful... Tensions between [Defence Secretary] Geoff Hoon and all his top military advisers were heightened by Blair's concern not to alert parliament and the public that he was preparing for war.'

Lord Dannatt, a senior officer at the MOD at the time and later head of the army, said: 'While I was privy to more intelligence information than most, I found what I read pretty uncompelling.' However, 'People had to trust the judgment and integrity of the then prime minister.'

Not a single one of these misgivings surfaced publicly before or during the war. In fact, the military was given unprecedented publicity and airtime to put the case for war.

The war was boosted by the military, the secret services, government and opposition politicians, the BBC, most of the print media and a host of others who should be hanging their heads in shame.

The mass movement was ignored or vilified, even though we were the people who told the truth. When the whole story of the Iraq war comes out in future decades, the full extent of the cover up and coercion will become clear.

But what is already clear is that those of us who protested ten years ago were right to do so. The world would be a much better place had we been listened to.

As our political leaders commit us to future wars involving ever deadlier and costlier weapons, we need to remember the lies they told us ten years ago and expose the lies they are telling us today.

From Stop the War Coalition

Lindsey German

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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