25 March 2004 Edition
Demonstrations worldwide on Iraq War anniversary
The week that marked the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by US and British forces has not been the best for the US administration. A year ago, President George W Bush expected that the dividends for the invasion — in the shape of oil revenues — would be flowing into the country. Twelve months later, he finds that nearly 600 US soldiers have died as a consequence of the occupation, this is a war that is costing more money than producing benefits, and that he may be facing a difficult November election as US public opinion realises that the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction — the alleged reason for the war — have failed to materialise.
A year after, anti-war protestors poured into the streets of cities all around the globe on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to demand the withdrawal of US-led troops. In New York, more than 100,000 demonstrators created a sea of signs in midtown Manhattan, many of them criticising Bush. Some of the signs spotted in the crowd read "Money for Jobs and Education not for War and Occupation" and "Bush Lies" and "End Occupation of Iraq".
The peaceful protests began in Asia and moved to Europe and the Americas in what organisers billed "a global day of action". From Sydney to Tokyo, from Santiago to Madrid, London, New York and San Francisco, demonstrators condemned US policy in Iraq and said they did not believe Iraqis are better off or the world safer because of the war.
At least a million people streamed through Rome, in probably the biggest single protest. In London, two anti-war protesters evaded security to climb the landmark Big Ben clock tower at the Houses of Parliament, unfurling a banner reading "Time for Truth". About 25,000 demonstrators gathered in central London, many carrying "Wanted" posters bearing images of President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his main war ally.
Concern over the war has been most evident in Spain, where thousands demonstrated a week after voting out the conservative government that sent troops to Iraq despite the overwhelming opposition of the population. Many Spaniards blamed Madrid's support for the war for the March 11 train bombs, blamed on Islamic militants, which killed 202 people. Spanish Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has pledged to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq, calling the war a "disaster" and a "fiasco".
While people around the world demonstrated against US policies, Bush used this first anniversary of the war to defend Iraq invasion during a meeting with the diplomatic corps organised by the White House. He insisted that the invasion of Iraq was an essential component of the War on Terror.
But as Bush was reaffirming his objective of making the US a safer place, free from international attacks, a former White House anti-terrorism adviser accused him of ignoring terrorism threats before the September 11 attacks and of making America less safe.
Richard Clarke, formerly Bush's top official on counter-terrorism, told CBS's 60 Minutes in an interview broadcast on Sunday 21 March that he thought Bush had "done a terrible job on the war against terrorism".
Over 10,000 Iraqi civilians are estimated to have been killed since 18 March 2003 as a direct result of the military intervention in Iraq, either during the war or during the subsequent occupation. The figure is an estimate as the authorities are unwilling or unable to catalogue killings. "We don't have the capacity to track all civilian casualties," US Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told Reuters in February.