March in Princes Street, Edinburgh's main thoroughfare.
Police outside the house of First Minister Jack McConnell
Crowd in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh's West End.
Tommy Sheridan, leader of Scottish Socialist Party, addresses the rally.
Wednesday 30th June 2004 was the date originally chosen for the “handover” of power to the Iraqis. The “handover” was brought forward by two days so that the ex-CIA intelligence officer who is now Iraq’s “Prime Minister” could avoid another bloody offensive by America’s enemies. Edinburgh Stop the war Coalition held a demonstration against the continuing occupation of Iraq with a march from the US Consulate in Regent Terrace to the house of the First Minister Jack McConnell in Charlotte Square in Edinburgh’s West End.
The crowd assembled near the US Consulate on Regent Terrace and set off at 6.30pm on a fine summer’s evening. Placards read `End the Occupation of Iraq`, `Iraq for the Iraqis`, `End the Torture`, `Not in my Name`, `Scottish Socialist Party`, while banners read `Edinburgh Stop the War - What price for oil? `, `The World is not a safer place`, `PACE`, `No blood for oil`, `Scottish Green Party` and `Labour against war`. Apart from the rainbow coloured PACE pennant the Palestinian and Irish flags were seen. There was singing from a choir who sang, “We are singing for our lives” and chants of “George Bush, terrorist, Tony Blair, terrorist!” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho Bush and Blair have got to go” and “Power to the people” and “That’s not what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like!” The march of around 500 moved steadily along Princes Street past the Balmoral Hotel, the Scott monument and the Royal Scottish Academy. There was a sit down protest at the junction of Frederick Street and Princes Street for about five minutes at 7 O’clock. Susan Karim who organised a sponsored walk for Iraqi orphans commented that she was pleased that Saddam was in the dock but said that Bush should be there with him. The march continued along the Capital’s main thoroughfare until the right turn up Castle Street to George Street; then on walking along to Charlotte Square the green dome of West Register House could be seen. The protest march reached Charlotte Square at around 7.30pm where the rally was held. There were a total of seven speakers who were introduced by Zahid Ali of Scottish Palestine Solidarity. He said that the whole war had been built on lies and that it was important to keep the momentum going.
First speaker was Carole Abudaid who being married to an Iraqi had lived for a number of years in the country. She spoke of the extensive use of depleted Uranium in Iraq in the first and second Gulf wars. DU has a half-life of 4.5 billion years and is linked to cancers and Gulf war syndrome. She reminded the crowd of the one and a half million people who had perished as a result of the sanctions. She urged the crowd to remember the date of the attack on Iraq, 20th March 2003, remember 3/20, 3/20!
She had been in contact with Iraq and the electricity is not fixed and the water in Baghdad is not drinkable.
Second was Mark Ballard of the Green Party who said that all the predictions of the anti-war movement before the conflict had been proved right. He said the Americans had lost all moral authority.
Next Stephen McMurray of Edinburgh Stop the War read out a statement from the STUC (Scottish Trades Union Congress). The STUC sent a message of greetings and solidarity and called upon the British Government to withdraw from Iraq. The invasion of Iraq was in total violation of the UN charter. No weapons of mass destruction have been found. The STUC called on the British Government to make every effort to restore good relations with the Islamic world and opposes any future attacks by the US against other nations such as Iran, North Korea, Syria or Cuba.
Fourth speaker was the leader of the Scottish Socialist Party Tommy Sheridan.
He told the crowd that he had been very privileged to be an elected socialist for 14 years, both as a councillor and an MSP. In 14 years he has never had a more difficult meeting than the one he had the previous day with the family of the young Scottish soldier who was tragically killed in Iraq, Gordon Gentle. He has known Gordon’s parents Rose and George for many years. Tommy movingly described Gordon as a beautiful, sincere, hard working young man who was popular in the local Pollok community. Tommy used Rose Gentle’s words, “It wasnae our war, it was Tony Blair’s war, we shouldn’t have been there.” It was Rose Gentle who said, “As far as she was concerned her boy was treated like a piece of meat. Why doesn’t Tony Blair and Geoff Hoon send their boys to Iraq?” Tommy called for the withdrawal of every British troop from Iraq saying to loud applause that we shouldn’t be there. The 9/11 commission revealed that there was no connection between Iraq and September 11th jus as there was no connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda. In fact there was no connection between Afghanistan and Al Qaeda. He said that the despair and heartache of the Gentle family is multiplied at least 15,000 times over as the Iraqi people have suffered so many casualties. Tommy went on: “The world of Bush and Blair is a world of deceit, it’s a world of lies, it’s a world of violence, it’s a world that tells us that we can’t afford free education in this country but we can afford to bomb Iraq, we can’t afford a decent pension for our pensioners but we can afford to bomb Iraq, we can’t afford free school meals for the kids in this country, but we can afford to bomb Iraq. Brothers and sisters that’s the old world, that’s the world of Bush and Blair, what we have got to do is build the new world, we have to redouble our efforts, individually and collectively to build the new world, the world based on solidarity of human beings, the world based on peace and love and cooperation, that’s the world that we build to the hearts, that’s the world that we build together!” (Prolonged applause)
The next speaker was a young man called Andrew who had just returned from occupied Palestine. He had never spoken in public before but he talked eloquently of a low intensity genocide being carried out against the Palestinian people by an Israeli government supported by Western governments. He spoke of the wall being built by the Israelis which is not to keep out suicide bombers but which is to continually steal land off the Palestinians, it is not along the `green line` but it sneaks in and out of Palestinian land. It keeps Palestinians farmers off their land, teachers from their schools, doctors from their patients; it’s an absolute disgrace and needs to be torn down. He spoke of the restricted movement between towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza, people need permits to travel between dehumanising checkpoints to get to work. Imagine what it would be like to have go through three checkpoints to travel between Morningside and Leith, both in Edinburgh. Andrew recounted an incident in May this year when at a peaceful demonstration against the demolition of a Palestinian home the Israelis fired missiles into a crowd from a helicopter gunship. This goes on all the time. He urged people to do what they could, to write to MPs to the press and so on.
Sixth of the seven speakers was Scottish writer A L Kennedy. She began by saying (somewhat sarcastically) a big thank you to the Lothian and Borders police. “It’s very nice of them to join us here!” She continued: “I’m here because I’m confused, because I’m trying to understand the mentality of Blair’s Britain and I’m trying to understand the mentality of the United States of Advertising and I find it very difficult, I find it very difficult to think that the handover or rather the non-handover of non-complete, non-sovereignty is something to celebrate. I’m trying to work out why having 14 military bases from another country’s army would be a thing that you would be happy about. I’m trying to think that it’s just because they would like life in Iraq to be much more interesting than it is in a normal civilian situation. I have a nice quote here from an American military person’s group. How interesting life could be, it says here: “With a heavy dose of fear and violence I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them” (laughter from crowd) - that’s from a US battalion commander called Nathan.
She commented: “It must be a good thing to have that kind of well trained military support when you’re trying to rebuild your country after other people who have well trained military equipment have bombed the shit out of it!”
She went on: “I’m trying to think that it’s a good thing that for example the Geneva Convention (now because they’re at peace) the Geneva convention has been suspended, it no longer operates in Iraq - as if we paid any attention to that when we were in Iraq before. But you’ll be aware that the military personnel and the strange mercenaries from Chile and South Africa and all of the wonderful people that we’ve dumped in Iraq to indulge their hobbies are immune from prosecution. But the thing that you should understand, Donald Rumsfeld has worked this out, so you shouldn’t worry about any of this, if somebody is tortured in good faith then it’s OK. (Laughter)
They’re not going to be prosecuted so this is why I brought this up here. This man who was beaten to death – if the man who beat him to death didn’t know that beating him to death would kill him, he can’t be prosecuted - he did it in good faith. She pointed to one of the photos from Abu Ghraid: “ This person who’s being scared to death, traumatised, threatened with electrocution, possibly electrocuted – I don’t know the full details, it’s just a fun holiday snap, this person – unless the person doing it really genuinely thought in their heart of hearts that he was being traumatised for life it’s OK, he can’t be prosecuted.”
She went on: “I’m trying to think that that’s a good thing. I just find it really, really fucking, hard.”
She said that in US prisons there is a high incidence of sexual offences and that currently one person in seventy-five was in prison. She told us of a `master watch list` of some five million people, operated by the department of homeland security. The list includes people who are environmentalists, trade unionists, foreigners, people with Muslim surnames, people who don’t vote Republican. “This is not an America that many of my American friends recognise.”
She asked the crowd to write to the BBC and to newspapers to complain about the poor news coverage on Iraq. She finished by saying she hoped for regime change in both Britain and the US and that perhaps in a year’s time we would have something to celebrate.
(A L KENNEDY’S LATEST BOOK `PARADISE` WHICH TAKES A LATERAL VIEW OF SOME OF THE ISSUES RELATING TO WAR IS OUT IN SEPTEMBER.)
The final speaker was Sergeant Jimmy Massie who was a Vietnam War veteran. While the link up was being sorted out, Jim Aitken of Stockbridge against the war read out a poem.
At just after 8.00 pm in the late evening sunshine the assemble crowd heard the voice of Jimmy Massie, “Good Afternoon, Scotland, I’m calling from my hometown area Whitesville, North Carolina which is in the highlands of the Appalachian Mountains and I would just like to see that it does my heart good that the great people of Scotland have rallied together. The President of the United States is a war criminal!” Jimmy said that he hoped that the people of Scotland would rally with the rest of the world to bring Bush to justice. He said that the war on Iraq was not necessary, we are killing innocent Iraqis and the blood spilled wasn’t necessary. Unfortunately the link was lost but at least we heard some of his important message.
There was an appeal for contributions and the rally broke up about 8.10pm.