When the Iraq War took place in 2003 there was an outcry across the World about its legitimacy. Few were for the war whilst mostly others were against it. Muslims like many others felt that:
- The views of many were ignored including the views of Muslims
- That it’s conduct violated the Geneva conventions
- That the war itself had a devastating cost to innocent civilian population, Iraq’s cultural heritage and its administrative infrastructures.
- It was also believed that it was all about the short-term benefit of oil and defence contracts and long term financial and strategic empire with Arab complicity and making rich people richer
The views of British Muslims on Iraq were conveyed to the Foreign Office Minister Mike O’Brien by an MCB delegation during a meeting with him on Monday 7th October 2002. In a free and frank exchange which ensued, the Minister defended the government’s position and insisted that only with the real threat of war could peace be a possibility with Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. The Muslim Council of Britain reaffirmed its opposition to war against Iraq stating that a pre-emptive strike against Iraq and a forceful ‘regime change’ would be illegal and could have catastrophic consequences for international peace and security.
The Foreign Office Minister Mike O’Brien conveyed the views of British Muslims on Iraq by an MCB delegation during a meeting with him on Monday 7th October 2002;. In this exchange, the minister defended the government’s position and instead that only with the real threat of war could peace by a possibility with Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. At this point the Muslim Council of Britain reaffirmed its opposition to war against Iraq stating that a pre-emptive strike against Iraq and a forceful ‘regime change’ would be illegal and catastrophic. However, none of this mattered as the war still took place.
After the war, the Muslim Council of Britain constantly called for a public inquiry into the Iraq War and asked for the inquiry not to be held behind closed doors without full disclosure.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, the Secretary General of Muslim Council for Britain said “I urge the Prime Minister to rethink the nature and remit of the Inquiry. The Iraq War has been significant in our nation’s history, and we are still living with the repercussions of the conflict to this day. We owe it to the rich heritage of our country to facilitate an honest learning exercise with total public confidence…. the Prime Minister has rightly spoken of reform where Parliament should have the proper mechanisms of scrutiny when the country goes to war. In addition, he has recently responded positively to the need for greater transparency in our political culture. An, pen Public inquiry will being keeping with those noble intentions”.
Countries such as Syria, Yemen and Libya are seen as the strongest opponents of war, and while the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are seen generally as US allies, they too have expressed their objection, preferring action sanctioned by the UN. However, there were significant fears for Saudi Arabia that strong opposition to the US could have long term repercussions. Despite this, Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Foreign Minister said any unilateral US action would appear as ‘an act of aggression’. Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak also warned that an attack would have catastrophic consequences as well as ‘set off a great fire of terrorism.
On 15 February 2003, The London demonstration was organised by Stop the War Coalition, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the Muslim Association of Great Britain. Estimates are 3 million people protested on this day in London. On this day, a coordinated day of protests was held across the world in which people in more than 600 cities expressed opposition to the imminent Iraq War. It was part of a series of protests and political events that had begun in 2002 and continued as the invasion, war, and occupation took place. The day was described by social movement researchers as “the largest protest event in human history“.
Saira Khan, Managing Director of Hidden Pearls (one of the largest suppliers of Hijabs and Islamic Gifts in United Kingdom) also attended the protest. She believes Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction was wrong. So that means “the whole reason for starting the war was based on a false premise. The west sat by and watched while this horror take place. Nearly a quarter of a million people died, and this is a poor excuse. Saddam used chemical weapons against Iran, and the west did nothing. He used chemical weapons against the Kurds, and the west stood back and watched. No one has suggested that Saddam was innocent. Yes, he may have been a bad guy, but he was not an imminent threat at the time. But the west went in with no clear plan, as a result yes, Saddam was defeated but chaos followed, and tens of thousands died. Given the fact that this invasion took place 18 months after 9/11, you have to ask if it was influenced by a political desire to attack Muslims as the reasons for war just are not justified in the grand scheme of things”.
Jeremy Corbyn’s Stop the War speech became one of the most iconic speeches ever. Thousands of people turned up to listen and support, in the famous Central London Hyde Park. Corbyn, at the helm of the labour party, criticised tony Blair for pursuing the war in Iraq.
Corbyn told the crowd in Hyde Park that Blair and other world leaders supporting the war “are isolated and alone and desperately searching for friends“, adding: “Because there is no justice whatsoever in the planned war against Iraq.” He said: “As a member of the British parliament I am very angry that we have so far been denied a vote on the possibility of going to war. I find it deeply distasteful that the British Prime Minister can use the medieval powers of the royal prerogative to send young men and women to die, to kill civilians and for Iraqis to die.” He further questioned why £3.5billion was being spent on a war “that nobody wants” when there was an Aids pandemic in Africa and famine in the world.
Charles Kennedy (leader of the Liberal Democrats party at the time) was the only mainstream political leader to oppose the Iraq war and join two million protesters. He spoke against the against the Bush-Blair Iraq war: “I can assure you there is no way, in all conscience, that the Liberal Democrats should, or would, support a war.” It was a bold move, especially since it was the only time Liberal Democrats ever opposed war.
Some politicians who supported the war now try to cover their embarrassment by claiming that “we did not know then what we know now” or “the real problem was the post-invasion arrangements”. But actually, the facts were clear at the time. But parties were willing to support the war for their own benefits.
Ken Livingstone, the London mayor, mounted a sustained personal attack on Mr Bush. “This is an American president who uses the death penalty with complete abandon and disregard for any respect for life. This is no example,” he told the rally. “So, let everyone recognise what has happened here today, that Britain does not support this war for oil. The British people will not tolerate being used to prop up the most corrupt and racist American administration in over 80 years.”
In February, 2003, Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, sharply criticized Bush and his drive for war, saying, “If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America.” Mandela also said, “One power with a president who has no foresight – who cannot think properly – is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust.” Mandela also accused Bush of “ignoring the U.N.“. Mandela went on by asking “Is this because the secretary general of the United Nations is now a black man?” Mandela and Sir Richard Branson planned, with Kofi Annan’s blessing, a secret trip to Iraq to convince Saddam to step down, but the bombing starting just before they were to leave.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan believed strongly that the Iraq war in 2003 demonstrated the need for the international community to address the issue of preventive action. In a BBC interview he was asked repeatedly whether the war was illegal, to which he finally said “yes…I have indicated it is not in conformity with the UN charter, from our point of view it was illegal”.
In 2004 he made the point that the US led war had not made the world any safer and that much more needed to be done to make the world a safer place. He also placed some tough questions forward for American and British Officials about the transfer of power back to Iraqi people.