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Belfast anti-war demo marks 5th anniversary of Iraq invasion

JM Thorn 

16 March 2008

A demonstration in Belfast to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq took place on Saturday 15 March.  This was part on an international day of action that saw demonstrations around the world.  Organised by the Belfast Anti-War Movement, and endorsed by a number of trade unions and solidarity groups, the demo attracted about two hundred people.  It took the form of a march from the Arts College to the City Hall.  At the City Hall the crowd was addressed by a number of speakers. 

The first speaker was Sean McCusker of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC).  He spoke about the recent Israeli attacks on the Gaza strip that had resulted in the deaths of over one hundred Palestinians.  The portrayal of these events as an Israeli response to rocket attacks was false.  The overwhelming violence was perpetrated by Israel while the actions of the Palestinians were a form of resistance.  Sean cited the threat from an Israeli minister to bring a Shoah (holocaust) to Gaza as evidence of this.  He argued that Palestine’s rocket attacks were a reaction to occupation.  It was also a myth that Israel had withdrawn from Gaza as it continued to control the land and sea borders and its airspace.  Sean said that events in Gaza fitted the accepted definition of genocide preparation.  The Palestinians were being symmetrically dehumanised and ghettoised. For Sean the genocide has already begun.  But this was nothing new.  It has been in progress for sixty years since the creation of the state of Israel.  From 1948 to the present the Palestinians had been denied their democratic rights.  Sean pointed to the fact that states and international institutions had failed to defend the rights of the Palestinians. He said that this task fell to solidarity activists who had a duty to continue to agitate and demonstrate. 

The second speaker was Kevin Doherty of the Belfast Trades Council. He began by condemning the attacks on Gaza and claimed that the demonstrations in Belfast and around the world should send a warning to Bush and Brown.  Five years ago the warnings of the anti-war movement over Iraq had been ignored; but with the deaths of one million people and the creation of four million refuges those warnings had proved correct.  Kevin also pointed to the rise of racism and the attacks on civil liberties as consequences of the war.  He said that the message from the anti-war movement had to be – “don’t do it again”.  Kevin concluded by saying that while the word imperialism may have fallen out of fashion, the carving up of Iraq’s oil wealth by multi-national companies proved that it was still relevant. 

The third speaker was Patricia McKeown of ICTU. She said that while the demonstrations had not mobilised the same numbers as they had five years ago millions of people were still opposed to the war.  Patricia claimed the anti-war movement was getting somewhere as its arguments “had been proved right”.  She said that ICTU would continue to oppose the war and the occupation of Palestine.  Recounting her own experience of visiting Gaza as part of a delegation she said that she was shocked by the conditions she witnessed.  People there asked for solidarity and support.  ICTU’s contribution to this was to call for economic sanctions against Israel. 

The next speaker was Colm Bryce of SWP and the Raytheon 9.  He informed the crowd that the court case resulting from their occupation of the Raytheon factory in Derry was due to begin on the 19th of May.  He reminded people that he and others had taken this direct action has a result of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1996; justifying it as an attempt to throw a “spanner into the works” of the war machine. Recounting a visit they had made to Lebanon in the wake of the war he spoke of witnessing the devastation created by the war, much of which was a result of missiles manufactured by Raytheon. Colm said it was important to continue to protest and to build the anti-war movement.  This would encourage people living in the Mid East and demonstrate that people in the West do not support the actions of their governments. He finished by stating that the resistance to imperialism in the Mid East was the hope for humanity.  The US and the UK were facing defeat in Iraq, and this defeat would bring an end to the wider war. 

The final speaker was an Iraqi man living in Belfast.  He said that people in Iraq would know of the anti-war demonstration in Belfast.  For him the people of Iraq were the victims of a war of terrorism – two million children had been orphaned and four million people turned into refugees. Conditions for the people were better under the regime of Saddam Hussein. He has witnessed the devastation for himself when on a visit to his country two years ago.  He argued that people were being ignored by their Governments as their decisions were determined not by democracy but by oil interests.  In his concluding remarks he said that he had recently spoken to his family in Iraq and had been informed that US troops were carrying out a policy of collective punishments.

The demonstration in Belfast reflected the general weakness of the anti-war movement.  The most obvious is the reduction in the number of people it attracted - down from 20,000 in 2003 to 200 in 2008.  While the earlier demonstrations were unprecedented in their size and unlikely to be repeated, the anti-war movement should have retained a higher level of support over this period.  The main reason for this failure is its lack of politics, always appealing to the lowest common denominator, and lack of organisation, being largely a front for the SWP that gets activated on an ad hoc basis.  This was reflected in the line of speakers at the Belfast demo.  Many of the groups involved, especially Sinn Fein supporters and the trade union movement, have no trouble supporting an imperialist settlement at home and claiming that the US has a positive role here while the left make empty anti-war gestures aimed at battles abroad. 

With the threat of war looming over Iran there is a need to build a political movement aimed at the working class rather than one that simply supports any opposition, whatever its nature, and/or indulges in moralistic and ritual forms of direct action. There is all the difference in the world between 200 people embarking on a new enterprise, no matter how difficult, and the tired and dispirited display in Belfast.


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