It is now five years since the invasion of Iraq and its consequences are obvious for all to see. Estimates of the death toll, suggest that more than a million Iraqis may have been murdered since the invasion. In addition, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that more than 2.2 million Iraqis are internally displaced, with a further 2 million having fled to neighbouring states, particularly Syria and Jordan. The explanation for these stark figures lies in the surge in sectarian conflict, widespread state repression, ongoing US-UK military operations, endemic criminality and growth of Islamic fundamentalism, all of which have been facilitated, if not actively encouraged, by the US-UK occupation.
This carnage has not taken place without opposition. The anti-war movement globally, nationally and locally has campaigned against US-UK imperialism in Iraq since the possibility of an attack was first mooted shortly after September 11th. The movement's concerns echoed in Nottingham as they did elsewhere, encouraging many local residents to get active.
As one of the major issues of recent years, it should not be surprising that the campaign against the invasion of Iraq has drawn in participants from a wide range of perspective: anarchists, socialists, communists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Quakers, LibDems and even the odd Labour party member.
February 15 2003 constituted the largest protest in history, with perhaps 10 million people taking to the streets across the world. In London alone, there were anything between 1-2 million protesters. Coaches were organised from Nottingham by the Stop the War Coalition, Nottingham Student Peace Movement, the University's Islamic Society and possibly others. Untold numbers made their own way to the capital by train or car. it's impossible to estimate how many people from Nottingham, let alone the region, participated in the day's protest, but there can be no question that it was in the thousands.
In Nottingham, this success was followed by a protest march on Saturday March 8 which went from the Forest recreation Ground down Mansfield Road and into the Market Square. This drew around 1,500, despite the wet weather, making it probably the biggest demonstration in the city since the Miners' Strike. Nottingham residents were joined by members of anti-war groups from Derby and Leicester and speakers included anti-war MP Alan Simpson. March 8 is International Women's Day and also saw the launch of a Women in Black group in the city. Members of this group held a vigil outside the Army recruitment offices at the Victoria Centre before joining the protest march as it came down Mansfield Road.
The following weeked, protesters marched from Beeston Town centre to Chetwynd Barracks in Chilwell. This is a crucial element in the British war machine as reservists pass through this base before being sent to the Gulf. Campaigners would return to the base several times over the following years seeking to draw attention to its role in UK imperialism.
The day the war started, saw an outburst of direct action across the world. This had been planned for sometime and prior to the outbreak of hostilities, activists had taken to talking of "Day X". In Nottingham activists distributed anti-war leaflets in the morning calling for people to walk out of work. There were a number of walk-outs at lunchtime, with a protest at the university being well supported by the Association of University Teachers (AUT). In the evening, protesters rallied in the market square. With perhaps a thousand people in attendance, they were able to march off unhindered by the police and Trinity Square was blocked as the result of an impromptu sit-down protest.
While the invasion itself was over relatively quickly it soon became apparent that the violence in Iraq was far from over. Nottingham Friends of the Iraqi People (NFIP) was launched at a meeting in the Nottingham Trent University Student's Union at which Jo Wilding spoke. The hope was that this group could build on the concern for the people of Iraq which had found expression in the anti-war movement and channel it into solidarity projects to help mitigate their suffering. With many western aid agencies viewed as proxies of the occupation by insurgents, relief work would increasingly fall on Muslim agencies. NFIP worked with one such agency, Nottingham-based Muslim Hands, to initiate "people to people" solidarity aid projects in Baghdad. Based on a trip to Iraq, they identified several projects they deemed worthwhile which the people of Nottingham could support. Money was raised through benefit gigs, booksale and socials.
While anti-war activity has continued since the invasion, the general trend ahas been for participation in events to drop off. The Mayday event in Nottingham in 2003 organised by the Stop the War Coalition and the Trades Council was particularly poorly attended (with the Trades Council themselves failing to turn up). There major exception to this trend was the protests against the visit of George Bush to the UK in November 2003 which drew several coachloads from Nottingham. (There were also several actions in Nottingham itself.)
In 2006, Tony Blair graced Nottingham with his presence on two occasions, facing opposition both times. In February, the PM came to the East Midlands Conference Centre on the University of Nottingham campus. While Blair's topic was nuclear power his presence alone was sufficient to generate a sizeable protest at short notice with many demonstrators expressing anger at his policies regarding Iraq. In July, Blair returned to address a talk about health at the Albert Hall. This again generated protests, with one activist getting into the hall. Inside he removed his shirt to reveal anti-war slogans on his chest and proceeded to heckle before being escorted from the hall.
The foregoing is a necessarily cursory overview of the local anti-war movement. It touches on some of the major events, but misses much out. There have also been any number of protests, teach-ins, pickets, meetings, stalls, film showings, petitions, vigils, leaflettings, benefit gigs and actions. While far from the levels of participation they reached in early-2003, these activities continue today. On Saturday March 15, a coach of activists from Nottingam went down to a march in London to mark the fifth anniversary of the war. It is clearly true that the movement failed to achieve its immediate objective of preventing the invasion and has, as yet, failed to bring about the withdrawal of US-UK forces. Nevetheless, at its peak it was both impressive and inspirational. Where the movement, locally nationally and globally goes now is an open question, one which will be answered by the people that get involved.