UK: Once Again, Stop the War

LONDON – More than three years after London saw its biggest ever rally to prevent the war in Iraq, the group Stop the War is launching a new campaign to pull coalition forces out of Iraq.

That rally in 2003 failed to stop the war, as the massively backed coalition had set out to do. But just about everything since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 has brought confirmation that the people on the street were right all along, and the government was wrong.

The continuing and worsening disaster in Iraq has now established that the British and the U.S. governments were wrong in their intelligence reports on Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, and that they have been wrong on simple common sense – common enough among ordinary people, but not so within government.

Stop the War is leading a protest outside Parliament in London today, when the first ever full debate over British military presence in Iraq is due to take place. The debate has been called by two small regional parties – the Scottish National Party and the Welsh party Plaid Cymru (Wales is a part of Britain, along with England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland).

"It is a disgrace that the debate should have been called by two small parties," Lindsey German from Stop the War told IPS. "It shows that the major parties have been criminally irresponsible over Iraq."

The Conservative Party backed the ruling Labor Party in the invasion of Iraq. The third force in British, the Liberal Democrats, opposed the war, but now it has stopped short of recalling British troops from Iraq.

"They always took the view that once the war started, they would support it," said German. "They are calling for a change of strategy, but that is clearly short of calling troops out."

Two recent opinion polls have shown significant majority support for recalling British troops from Iraq – one showed 61 percent support and the other 62 percent. "And that is for immediate withdrawal of forces," German said. "Many more support a withdrawal at some stage later."

Stop the War is extending its campaign also to pull British troops out of Afghanistan. The group was set up five years ago to try to preempt the invasion of Afghanistan. Its focus shifted to Iraq that turned out to be a more dramatic invasion – and then a far more disastrous mistake.

The focus of the protests remains Iraq. The new move follows recent statements from senior U.S. officials and from top British generals that the coalition forces should pull out of Iraq. Britain has just about 7,000 troops in Iraq, compared to about 140,000 U.S. troops.

Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the British armed forces, said the foreign troops in Iraq are only making matters worse. He said British troops should pull out "sometime soon." In the United States, a top State Department official said U.S. "failure" in Iraq stemmed from "arrogance and stupidity," in a remark later given out as withdrawn.

The antiwar group has held occasional protests over the past three-and-a-half years, but the protests have not drawn large numbers. The new protest marks the beginning of a renewal of the campaign, spurred on by admissions from top leaders involved in the occupation that the coalition forces had got it wrong.

Signs are emerging that public opinion in Britain wants the government to take a stand independent of what the U.S. government may want. In a poll called by The Guardian, 61 percent of the voters said they want British troops to leave, and this year, even if the U.S. government wanted them to stay.

Only 30 percent backed Prime Minister Tony Blair in keeping the troops in Iraq as long as necessary. In the last Guardian poll in September 2005, 51 percent said they wanted British troops out of Iraq.

Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said in London last week that the British government could not "cut and run." But sympathy for the puppet regime in Iraq has been declining.

With the focus now on Iraq, Afghanistan cannot be far behind. British troops do not look like they are in a winning position – or even in a position to stay – in Afghanistan, either.

At the least Britain has decided to cut its troops in Iraq. But members of Stop the War say that may not be good enough either for Britain or for Iraq.