OVER 100,000 people marched in London and many thousands more marched in Glasgow on Saturday, to demand the immediate withdrawal of all British troops from Iraq and the breaking of the British government’s war alliance with the United States.
Iraqi medical students Rusul, Dania and Huda told News Line as the London march was assembling: ‘We came here about four months ago. We are demonstrating to get the troops out of Iraq – American and British troops – because we want to control our country for ourselves.’
Rusul said: ‘Me and my sister are medical students at Baghdad University and because of them many professors were killed and all these campaigns were led by Americans and British.
‘They invaded our country and they want to destroy everything good in it, and moreover they put some puppets in, working as our government and they are not representing the Iraqi people at all.
‘We just want them to get out of our country. That’s it.
‘They’re invaders. They should go out.’
Huda said: ‘In fact, not only Iraqi people are dying every day, but also American and British soldiers too. But the media say nothing about them.
‘We just want the British and Americans to realise the truth.’
As the London march gathered there were contingents with their banners from all parts of the country, including School Students Against the War, local Stop The War groups, trade unionists, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Campaign Iran, CND and many, many others.
Demonstrators young and old carried placards saying things like: ‘Troops out’, ‘Don’t attack Iran’, ‘Free Palestine’, ‘No Trident Replacement’, ‘Hands off Al Aqsa’, ‘No new British Weapons of Mass Destruction’, ‘Bush – World’s No.1 Terrorist’, ‘Peace’, ‘Stop bombing Afghanistan’, ‘Coventry 12 – Persecuted for Faslane Trident Blockade’, ‘No War: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan – UK troops out. No Trident replacement’, ‘You lie – kids die’, and ‘Stop the Terrorists – Send Bush, Blair and Olmert to Gitmo’.
Among the banners were ones from: the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Tower Hamlets and Jenin Twinning Campaign, National Union of Teachers, CND, Stop The War Coalition, Camden NUT, Hammersmith and Fulham Trades Council, Manchester Amicus, Stockport Peace Forum, School Students Against the War, Leeds Stop the War Coalition, Yorkshire CND, Student NUJ Book Branch, UNISON SOAS, Campaign Against The Arms Trade, Bristol Defend Asylum Seekers Campaign, PCS, ‘Enough!’ – End the Israeli occupation, Justice for the Palestinians, Campaign Iran – and many, many others.
Many people carried homemade banners, saying things such as: ‘Section the real psychotics – Bush and Blair – for life’, ‘Essex Students – Troops out of Iraq, Hands off Iran’, and ‘Don’t attack Iran, No Military Intervention, Dialogue’.
There was a contingent from the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Young Socialists, as well as banners from the Chagos Islanders Community Association and Gate Gourmet Sacked Workers.
The WRP and YS contingent shouted slogans all along the route of the march to Trafalgar Square, including: ‘Bush, Blair – terrorists!’, ‘What do we want? – Troops out! When do we want it? – Now!’, ‘Victory to the Iraqi resistance – Troops out now!’ and ‘Bush, Blair you should know, Chagos Islanders are going home!’
All through the demonstration there were people shouting their demands, including: ‘Get the troops out now, get the troops out now!’, ‘Bring home Omani Degayes – shut down Guantanamo Bay!’, ‘Occupation is a crime – free Iraq and Palestine!’, ‘No more torture, no more war!’, and ‘George Bush, we know you – your daddy was a killer too!’
Many demonstrators spoke to News Line.
Fred Litten, a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: ‘Blair should stop providing the Israelis with weapons and bulldozers.
‘I think we should provide the Palestinians with the funds that they need and that Israel pays the taxes that it’s taken from the Palestinians.’
Emily Poore, 16, from Derbyshire, said: ‘Using Britain as a base for missiles is just like the Cuban missile crisis.
‘We need a change of government and society.
‘I think more strong action needs to be taken, because even though protest raises awareness, it is not having the full effect.’
Musicians Chris Caps, 23, from Kent, and Chris Hearn, 22, from London, said of Blair’s negotiations with the US to station interceptor missiles in Britain: ‘It’s totally ridiculous. Again, it’s just trying to keep on the right side of the US.
‘They are both of the same mentality, that they’ve got to maintain this power and this hegemony over the rest of the world.
‘I think that’s what this demonstration is about.’
Moral Svendsen, 16, said: ‘We’re from Liverpool School Students Against the War.
‘I think we should kick Blair out. We need someone who is a fair representation of the people, because right now it’s just the people in power who are being represented and they are not the majority.’
Kevin Bolger, from Derbyshire, said: ‘We say Guantanamo Bay is an affront to humanity and should be closed down immediately and reparations paid to the people who have suffered there.’
Alys Zaerin, from Campaign Iran, said: ‘We’re fighting against our government’s participation in any attack, military intervention or sanctions on Iran.
‘We’re trying to combat the really anti-Iran bias there is in the media.
‘I think it’s really scary, it’s incredible – the newsreaders might have just got the script from four years ago when they invaded Iraq, it’s just the same.’
Alan Sprung, from Coventry, said: ‘Twelve people have been arrested for protesting outside Faslane.
‘This nuclear policy stinks. We’re against all nuclear weapons. Everybody should be taking action to halt this weapons programme.’
National Union of Journalists member Kyran Connolly said the interceptor missile programme was ‘very disturbing’.
He said the US was going to do the same in Poland and the Czech Republic and set up nuclear missile bases there as well.
‘I think it’s a dangerous development for peace and security, not only in Europe but worldwide – and of course it would immediately make Britain a target for hostile action, if it were not enough of a floating aircraft carrier for America already.
‘I think the collusion between the US and UK in Iraq without popular consent demonstrates how dangerous it is for all of us.’
Sally Griffin, from the Save-Omar campaign, said: ‘The campaign is to have Omar Degayes and other British residents in Guantanamo Bay released and returned safely to this country, where they have refugee status or right to remain.
‘The British government so far has refused to take any steps to return them to Britain.
‘Meanwhile, they’re detained in a legal black hole, going slowly insane, and denied all their basic human rights.’
Nicola, from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: ‘Over 50 per cent of Palestinians are now food insecure.
‘This government’s refusal to recognise the elected Hamas government is hypocrisy.’
Dave, from Croydon, said: ‘The government will do anything to mangle public opinion, so they can just carry on doing exactly what they want.
‘Strike action might by the only option.’
Enzo Mefsut, a student from Cambridge University, said: ‘There should be a general strike. That’s the only way the trade unions will have any effect, a general strike to secure their interests.
‘That’s how they have power – if they don’t strike, they don’t have any power.
‘I think it’s hypocritical: how can you say you support the movement against war but then refuse to act? It’s inconsistent.’
Behdad Shambayati, a member of Amicus from Surrey, said: ‘The unions should be directly lobbying Tony Blair.
‘I’m paying my political levy. Why are they not using my levy to actually lobby against occupation and against future plans for wars?’
At a rally in Trafalgar Square, Labour party leadership contender John McDonnell, said: ‘This is a tremendous demonstration of the anger of the British people against what Blair has done in Iraq and is threatening to do in Iran.
‘We want all the British occupation forces out of Iraq immediately.’
Speaking about the threats to Iran, he warned: ‘We’ve seen it all before – the naval build-up by the US in the Gulf, the dry run by Israel to bomb Iran itself, and now the drawing up of another dodgy dossier. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.’.
Dr Daoud Abdullah, assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: ‘President Bush has a saying to the American people, that they’re addicted to oil.
‘He has his own addiction: he’s addicted to war. War of terror, war of aggression, civil war – you name it, he loves it. He lives for war! There is no winning the war when the people are against them.’
TGWU leader Tony Woodley did not attend, but send a short message, saying: ‘The prime minister’s statement is too little, too late. We want our troops home now.’
UCU joint general secretary, Paul Mackney, said the return of 1,600 troops from Iraq ‘is not enough, particularly if an extra 1,000 are sent to Afghanistan.’
He added: ‘We’ll be back until every soldier returns.’
Mackney attacked the ‘xenophobic government’ and reiterated: ‘UCU members won’t spy on Muslim students.’
Jon Trickett MP said attacked the ‘private and secretive relationship’ between the British and American governments to launch war on the Middle East and beyond and make Britain a target with a new weapons system.
Judith Le Blanc, co-chair of the US anti-war movement, United for Peace and Justice, said the overwhelming majority of American people ‘want this war to end and stand with your struggle against nuclear weapons.’
She added: ‘The most difficult push is just before the birth – now we’re ready to push!’
George Galloway MP said: ‘Blair must go now before he does any more damage’, and predicted: ‘There will be riots in Britain if he takes us into yet another war.’
Rose Gentle, from Military Families Against The War, said: ‘Tony Blair is the one who killed my son and got thousands of Iraqi people killed.
‘I don’t see why our sons should be murdered by a government who’ve not got the backbone to see us for even five minutes.’
UNISON deputy-general secretary Keith Sonnet, vice-president of the Stop The War Coalition, said: ‘My union represents 1.4 million people doing difficult jobs in public services under difficult conditions.’
He condemned plans to spend tens of billions of pounds on new nuclear weapons, also saying: ‘We should be demanding that the right of the Palestinian people to elect the government they want to should be respected.’
Billy Hayes, general secretary of the CWU, said: ‘There was some doubt I’d speak today.’
But he said he had decided to deliver his message to the rally in person, and added: ‘Make sure general secretaries and delegates to the TUC and the Labour Party don’t just talk the talk but walk the walk against nuclear weapons and against war.’
But Hayes didn’t extend his speech to a call to ‘strike the strike’ to end the occupation of Iraq.
Non-stop peace campaigner Brian Haw, who has demonstrated outside parliament since before the Iraq war, condemned ‘the vile, calculated cruelty’ against the children of Iraq.
‘Have you seen the effect of Depleted Uranium munitions on the babies, on the children in Iraq?! Have you seen the horror?!
‘Genocidal Mr Blair, Blair war criminal – to the Hague with him! To the Hague with Bush! Bush, Blair: war criminals.’
Other speakers included: Lindsay German (Stop The War Coalition), Jeremy Corbyn MP, Louise Richards (War on Want), Sian Jones (Aldermaston Women’s Peace Group), Tony Benn, Roudie Shafie (Campaign Iran), Venezuelan MP Augusto Montiel, Ismail Patel (British Muslim Initiative) and London Mayor Ken Livingstone.