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WITH THE FIFTH anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in March came the inevitable rehashing and reminiscences of the series of events that led to the US/UK occupation of the oil-rich Gulf state and the end of Saddam Hussein's despotic regime.

I was among more than a million people (some say as many as 1.5m), who marched through the streets of London in February 2003, to draw the attention of the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair to our strong objections to the imminent illegal invasion.

It was not that most did not deplore the cruelty of the Iraqi leader, it was simply that we judged the war to be illegal and many of us were also highly suspicious of the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) being bandied about in London and Washington. Weapons, you will remember, that months of exhaustive investigations failed to unearth a shred of evidence of.

Around the world more than 30m other people marched on their own streets for the same purpose. It didn't work. Just weeks later the first of the bombs fell on Baghdad and the troops moved in.

By March 2008 more than 4,000 US and British servicemen and women have lost their lives and, according to Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard Business School public finance lecturer Linda J. Bilmes, the war costs US taxpayers alone $720m a day, or half a million dollars a minute.

The costs to Iraq are incalculable; a survey published last September by the UK-based Opinion Research Business organisation put Iraqi civilian deaths at around 1.2m, some say more, others fewer; most international observers concede that it is anybody's guess. No official records have been kept of the dead or disappeared so it is unlikely we will ever know.

Much under discussion over the last few weeks has been whether or not the invasion in March 2003 was illegal; since a second resolution from the United Nations (UN) validating such a move was never forthcoming. There are certainly arguments to be had over the legitimacy of the Iraqi invasion, although it is now generally regarded as a 'done deal', with only lessons to be learned from the unseemly haste with which it was executed. Nevertheless, small pressure groups in Britain continue to petition for Tony Blair to be tried as a war criminal. More people than you might imagine regard the former prime minister in that light, although it is certain he will never face trial on such charges.

In mid-March 2008, people once again took to the streets to mark the anniversary of the Iraqi invasion. They may have been fewer in number but they were no less vocal or angry than in 2003. And in most of these centres of so-called "freedom and democracy" the cry was for an end to further aggressive acts; an end to conflict and suffering, not only for their own sons and daughters but for the sons and daughters of Basra and Baghdad as well.

The chessboard of human life that successive global governments play upon does not always reflect the feeling on the street, and this is as true in the West as anywhere else. Indeed the election of a government to power makes us even more accountable for its actions. We cannot absolve ourselves of that responsibility. If, as the old adage goes we had known then (in February 2003), what we know five years later would we have objected more strongly; lobbied our politicians more determinedly; shouted louder; marched further and in greater numbers? I think perhaps we would.

So when the time comes for us to respond to the next "righteous" political tirade, be it over weapons of mass destruction; the harbouring of terrorist organisations; or the generation of nuclear power, perhaps we might reflect on where our anger should be directed and how our voices might best be heard.

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Title Annotation:CURRENT AFFAIRS
Author:Lancaster, Pat
Publication:The Middle East
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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