HUNDREDS RALLIED across the country to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq on March 16. The demonstrations were smaller than previous anniversary rallies, with 350 in Sydney, 400 in Melbourne and 100 in Brisbane.
This was part of a global day of action against the occupation of Iraq. The biggest demonstrations were in the UK, with up to 40,000 people marching in Central London. In the United States Iraq Veterans Against the War marked the occasion with the Winter Soldier hearings (see page 27).
The rallies were held on Palm Sunday, a traditional day of protest for the peace movement, attempting to draw a broad constituency including the broad left and faith organisations. Their small size reminds us of the hard task needed to rebuild momentum under the Rudd Government.
The turnout was hampered by the widespread perception that Kevin Rudd is pulling all troops out of Iraq, and the lack of public, organised opposition to the war in Afghanistan over the last six years.
Many people are confused and view the war in Afghanistan as against terrorism, and therefore a ‘good’ war. Nevertheless, both wars remain unpopular with the majority of Australians. As is George Bush’s project to dominate the oil-producing and strategically important countries of the Middle East.
Yet, with only low level public criticism, Rudd is able to keep 950 troops in support roles in Iraq and he and Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon have been arguing for NATO countries to increase their troop commitment in Afghanistan.
Rudd is using his world trip to galvanise support for the occupation of Afghanistan and to assure the Bush administration that despite the withdrawal of troops, he is still in full support of the their project in Iraq.
We need to respond to these developments with press releases, public meetings and pickets. The Stop the War Coalition in Sydney is responding to Rudd’s trip to NATO with a public meeting, and in Melbourne Civil Rights Defence will hold a public meeting with Peter Russo, the lawyer acting for Dr Haneef.
The anniversary rallies were an important step in rebuilding a movement that understands that Rudd wants to keep Australia firmly as a key player in Bush and Howard’s imperialist war on terror.
The combination of global anti-war movement and resistance inside the Middle East has been central to US problems in Iraq since 2003. That’s why it is the strength of this local anti-war campaign that will be decisive in dismantling Australia’s pro-war contribution.