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Protests in name of peace; It was 10 years ago today that we saw some of the world's largest ever anti-war demonstrations. JOANNE BUTCHER explores the legacy a decade down the line.


ON February 15, 2003, millions took to the streets to make their voices heard. In London, New York and even Antarctica, people gathered to protest about plans by Britain and the US to invade Iraq.

A decade later, after the deaths of more than 600 British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the protests are still going strong.

Tonight, peace protesters will gather at Newcastle's Civic Centre for a rally marking their ongoing opposition to British aggression overseas.

Dr Nick Megoran, Newcastle University lecturer and chaplain, and co-convenor of Newcastle and Northumbria Universities' Martin Luther King Peace Committee, said: "On February 15, 2003, an unprecedented alliance of activists, churches, mosques and trade unions called the largest demonstration in British history.

"Ten years on,weare re-assembling this alliance to restate the case against reckless military adventurism in parts of the world we little understand.

"In 1967 Rev Martin Luther King, in a speech here in Newcastle, said that alongside racism and poverty "the problem of war" was one of the "three urgent and indeed great problems" facing humanity.

"Almost half a century on, our leaders ignore his words at their peril."

Several Stop the War marches were held in Newcastle in 2003, including one which saw schoolchildren walk out of lessons to be part of a nationwide movement.

In March of that year, protesters on the Millennium Bridge stopped a Royal Navy vessel from leaving port, while others picketed outside Durham North-West MP and Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong's home. castle to show their strength of feeling. But the-then Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush were unshakable in their conviction to invade. They warned that Saddam Hussein's access to weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) put all of our lives at risk, and so Western forces entered Iraq on March 20, 2003. The war for some was a success, in that it removed a tyrant who had brought suffering to his own people. But 179 British soldiers and an estimated 150,000 Iraqis were killed, while no WMDs were ever found. Dr Michael Patrick Cullinane, senior lecturer in US history at Northumbria University, says much has been lost in the pursuit of Blair and Bush's aims. He said: "Military intervention is a solution to problems, so you can make the argument that Iraq was a success as there is now a quasi-democracy and gradual improvements in equality. But at what cost? "

The loss of life, the nation-building which America imposed ... you have to wonder if that is what success looks like." Dr Megoran added: "The hope when we went into Iraq was that we would unseat a tyrant and bring in a new order of liberal democracy. "Now, one tyrant has gone but it would be hard to say the country is a democracy. It might be moving in that direction - or it might be more of the same. "There is ongoing civil strife. The social fabric of the country has been torn up. Iraqis might question whether it was worth it. At this stage, I think the balance sheet would still come out in the red." For writer Zainab Radhi, the toppling of Saddam's regime was a chance to return to her homeland and try to build a new and peaceful life. She made Tyneside her home after fleeing from Iraq with her family aged 16, but in 2009 she finally went back to Baghdad. "When I relocated back to Iraq, I realised I wasn't the only returnee," said Zainab. "A number of Iraqis from all walks of life had returned, each with their own hopes and dreams of how to rebuild. Rebuild their lives as well as their country."

But the dreams did not last for long. Zainab now lives in Oman, where she teaches at Sultan Qaboos University. "I, personally, realised that I was naive back then," she said. "My enthusiasm and passion that pushed me to return, willing to endure anything in order to feel useful to the country, was all halted by corruption. "It's not wise to generalise and blame everything and everyone, but it is certainly undeniable to the locals and visitors that Iraq has become one giant money-making field. The way I saw it, almost everything is infected with corruption in Iraq. "Since I wasn't willing to be a part of that world, nor did I have the right protection, I was forced to leave." Zainab said many Iraqis have started to look back on Saddam's rule with rose-tinted glasses as the country struggles to rebuild basic systems and structures.

"Unfortunately, since life never improved in Iraq since the US invasion, people gradually started to look back and reminisce over days when they could walk the streets freely and safely. Days when they had an adequate supply of water and electricity. "A lot of people told me they would gladly give back the freedom of speech, in exchange to the bare minimum required to survive life in Iraq. Saddam, with all the crimes that he committed against his own people, has become the lesser of the two evils. And to some, even a hero." Many fear that the long-term legacy of Iraq will be the hardening attitudes of middle eastern and Muslim communities towards the West. In countless suicide videos, the conflict has been cited as part of the reason behind the terrorists' actions.

Zainab said there are mixed feelings in her homeland. She added: "Iraqis are survivors. They take everything that happens to them with a pinch of salt. "In regards to their views on the West, it is enough for them that ordinary citizens in theWest realise what had happened, and what is still happening. They become resentful and defensive when their suffering is belittled and the crimes committed against them labelled with legal optimistic titles, such as 'liberation'. "They squirm with aggravation when they have to justify the obvious to Westerners." Dr Megoran has seen first-hand the change in attitudes. "I often work in the Middle East and Central Asia, and before 2003, people said they respected and admired Britain," he said.

"Now, Iamsometimes harangued in the streets. It has definitely changed the image of Britain around the world. I think it has led to a violent response from Islamists. I don't think the London bombings would have happened if we hadn't gone into Iraq. That legacy will take a long time to deal with." But Dr Cullinane believes opinions towards the US - and the West in general - are changing under President Barack Obama. "In 2003, there was outrage that Bush invaded Iraq," said Dr Cullinane. "But the turnaround in recent years has been swift. Obama is completely untainted by the war.He was one of the few US senators who opposed it." Have we learned our lesson here in the West? Dr Megoran thinks so.

"It politicised a generation," he said. "The populations ofWestern countries have become far less willing to countenance the use of thatamountof force for ideological projects." But for Dr Cullinane, the issue is less certain. He said: "If you look back, this was something which didn't have to happen. It was something which was on the agenda of the warhawks. "In the 2000s, the people in power in the US had forgotten the lessons of Vietnam in the 60s and 70s. "For the next five years, certainly for the rest of Obama's administration, those lessons will be remembered. But 20 years down the line, I'm not so sure." Anti-war meeting PROTESTERS will gather For a Future Without War rally at 6.30pm tonight. Held at the Pandon Room in Newcastle Civic Centre, the event includes speeches from Lindsey German, honorary convenor of the Stop the War Coalition; Clare Williams, Unison northern region convenor; Hazera Begum, former head sister for Muslim students at Northumbria University; and Tony Kempster, the vice president of the International Peace Bureau (Geneva) and honorary general secretary of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship. It has been organised by Northumbria and Newcastle Universities' Martin Luther King Peace Committee; Newcastle Stop the War campaign, and Unison Northern Region to mark 10 years since the mass protests against the Iraq war.

Ms Williams said: "This public rally has been called to highlight the continuing opposition to war and to campaign for a better world without conflict and a future without war. "We are calling for an end to the occupation of Afghanistan, no to further war in Syria, Mali and Iran, and a re-investment of public money in our health services and social economy at a time of massive cuts. "Now is the time for working people, and peace-loving people throughout the world, to come together and challenge the military and industrial machine that is making war a permanent part of our life. "As millions predicted 10 years ago, the "war on terror" has turned into a catastrophe for the Middle East, Afghanistan and parts of Africa. "If you believe in peace then all are welcome to attend this open public meeting and campaign for a better world."

Others held vigils at Grey's Monument in New-22

"They squirm with aggravation when they have to justify the obvious to Westerners


MEETING British Prime Minister Tony Blair during a Press conference with US President George Bush
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Feb 15, 2013
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