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Popular opposition to war on Iraq

Many commentators have opined that popular opposition to war on Iraq exceeded the movement against the Vietnam War in scale, even before the war was declared. Thousands of small and large global protests against war in general or war on Iraq were held in 2003, voicing popular opposition to war on Iraq. This article discusses why many people were opposed to the war.

Table of contents
1 Opposition in western European countries
2 Religious opposition
3 Protests against war on Iraq
4 See also
5 External links

Opposition in western European countries

Some have speculated that western European countries were against a war because of widespread European "anti-American" sentiment. Contributing to these feelings were the positions taken by the George W. Bush administration on international issues: for example, American policies on global warming and environmental protection, on the International Criminal Court, on pre-emptive attack, and what was perceived even before the September 11th attacks as a policy of arrogant unilateralism practiced by the Bush administration and especially the neoconservatives within it.

The commonly articulated reasons included: a belief that the UN process (including Hans Blix's inspections) should be allowed to reach it's natural conclusion, an aversion to America's neo-con bellicosity, a belief that the threat posed by Iraq was being exaggerated, a preference for multilateralism, a belief that war might just "serve as a recruiting sergeant for Al-Qaida", and fear of the "fog of war" i.e. the uncertain and unpredictable consequences of invading another country.

The scale of the change in attitudes in Europe between 9/11 and late 2002 was astonishing, with the enormous goodwill and support of the immediate 9/11 period having been greatly eroded. Changes in the Republic of Ireland are an example of this. In the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center, Ireland declared an unprecedented full national day of mourning for the victims. The reaction was two-fold: horror at the deaths but also a strong degree of sympathy for the United States, whom Ireland saw as a friend, particularly after US President Bill Clinton's welcome interventions during the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. By February 2003, the public reaction to the Bush administration actions over Iraq had changed America's image utterly. Instead of being seen in a positive light, the United States under Bush was seen as a 'bully' determined to force the international community to accept its demand for a war against Iraq, and if necessary ignore the international community in the United Nations. Hence, an estimated 100,000 people took part in an anti-war march in Dublin (the organisers had expected 20,000) with demands being made that the United States be refused permission to use Shannon Airport as a stop over point when flying their soldiers from the United States to countries bordering Iraq. Yet opinion polls showed that the Irish would support a war if it had United Nations approval. What they would not support was a non-UN-sanctioned war declared in defiance of the UN by the Bush administration.

Such 'anti-Bush' and anti-war sentiments were reflected in many western European countries, generally with the populace less sympathetic to the U.S. stance even when politicians in a given country (e.g. the UK and Spain) aligned themselves with the U.S. position. The general populations of France and Germany were opposed to the war and it would have been difficult for their governments had they failed to reflect those sentiments in policy. France's position in particular has been very much maligned within the U.S. After the first UN resolution, France advised the U.S. that it (the USA) had sufficient UN support to launch a war and that it (the USA) need not return to the UN for a second resolution. Nontheless, the U.S. and the UK did push for a second resolution (to help Mr. Blair gain support for the war within the UK) and France reversed its earlier positions, unable then to agree to what was proposed. The French government took the position that the UN inspection process should be allowed to be completed.

Some observers, being then unconvinced that Iraq's secular government had any links to al-Qaida, the terrorist group that allegedly attacked the U.S., expressed puzzlement that the U.S. would consider military action against Iraq and not against North Korea, which had claimed it already had nuclear weapons and had announced that it was willing to contemplate war with the U.S.

Many critics of the American War on Terror, including the UK's foreign intelligence services, did not believe that American actions would help to end terror, and believed that they would actually increase the ranks and capabilities of terrorist groups; some believed that during the war and immediate post-war period there would be a greatly increased risk that weapons of mass destruction would fall into the wrong hands (including Al-Qaida).

America's presence in Middle-Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia has been one source of discontent that has served as an excuse to Islamic fundamentalists to commit acts of violence. Even as the U.S. downscales its presence and existing bases (e.g. Saudi Arabia), it is not clear that the U.S. presence in Iraq will be anything but de-stabilising because many in the Muslim world resent the "infidel" presence in the Middle East, using this as a means of inciting the disenfranchised in their populations to violence. On the other hand, a stable democracy in Iraq could have a stabilising influence. Clearly, there was a gamble there, and only the post-war period will prove which viewpiont was correct.

Perhaps the most commonly heard criticism, at least outside of the U.S., was that the Bush Administration's reason for going to war with Saddam was to gain control over Iraqi natural resources (i.e., oil). Though few doubt that nuclear and WMD proliferation is a serious threat to stability and well-being, many felt that a war in Iraq would not aid in eliminating this threat and that the real reason was to secure control over the Iraqi oil fields (at a time when arguably links with Saudi Arabia were at risk).

Religious opposition

On September 13, 2002, US Catholic bishops signed a letter to President Bush stating that any "pre-emptive, unilateral use of military force to overthrow the government of Iraq" cannot currently be justified. They came to this position by evaluating whether an attack against Iraq would satisfy the criteria for a "just war", as defined by Catholic theology. [1]

The Vatican also came out against war in Iraq. Archbishop Renato Martino, a former U.N. envoy and current prefect of the Council for Justice and Peace, told reporters last week that war against Iraq was a "preventative" war and constituted a "war of aggression", and thus did not constitute a "just war." The foreign minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, expressed concerns that a war in Iraq would inflame anti-Christian feelings in the Islamic world. On February 8, 2003, Pope John Paul II said "we should never resign ourselves, almost as if war is inevitable." [1]

Both the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and his successor, Rowan Williams, spoke out forcefully against war with Iraq.

The World Council of Churches, which represents between 350 million and 450 million Christians from over 100 countries, published a statement in opposition to war with Iraq. The executive committee said, "War against Iraq would be immoral, unwise, and in breach of the principles of the United Nations Charter."

On January 18, 2003, a mass mobilization pulled together demonstrations against the war in cities around the world, including Tokyo, Moscow, Paris, London, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Cologne, Bonn, Goteborg, Florence, Oslo, Rotterdam, Istanbul, San Francisco and Cairo. See Global protests against war on Iraq.

On January 25, 2003 an international group of volunteers left London and is heading for Baghdad to act as human shields, hoping to avert a war. The project's organizer was Kenneth O'Keefe, a former U.S. Marine who served in the 1991 Gulf War but who renounced his citizenship afterwards. The convoy travelled through Europe and Turkey by bus and to pick up like-minded people along the way, which totalled about 70. Eventually about 500 people turned up (See Human Shields).

Protests against war on Iraq

On February 15, 2003, worldwide protests, the largest yet, drew millions of people opposed to the war. Over 3 millions people marched in Rome, more that 750,000 people in London, more than 600,000 in Madrid, 300,000 in Berlin, as well as in Damascus, Paris, New York, Oslo, Stockholm, Brussels, Johannesburg, Montreal - more than 600 cities in all, worldwide. See Global protests against war on Iraq.

For more on global protests against war in general or war on Iraq.

See also

External links