The Iraq War, which began with the invasion of Iraq by a US-led coalition in 2003, was a war for power, profit and control of the region and its resources. It also served as a clear and deliberate message to the rest of the world that the United States and United Kingdom were prepared to take unilateral military action without the support of international law or public opinion. Even by those who supported it at the time, including former Deputy Prime Minister Lord John Prescott, the decision to take part in the invasion of Iraq is now widely regarded to have been illegal and a mistake 1 – a mistake that, according to the long-awaited Iraq Inquiry (also referred to as the Chilcot Inquiry), was made on the basis of “flawed” intelligence and that failed to adequately plan and make preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s deposition.
There is no doubt that Saddam was a merciless, repressive, loathsome despot – a despot the United States and United Kingdom had previously armed while he murdered Kurds and Shiites 2 – but the decision to take military action against Iraq “before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted” was an egregious and unforgivable error on the part of the decision makers in Washington and London that has profoundly exacerbated the level of violence, suffering and instability in the region and only increased the threat of stateless terrorism around the world. The birth of so-called Islamic State is one of the grotesque and catastrophic consequences of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and other US-led military interventions over the last quarter of a century in the Middle East. In 2015, Tony Blair himself even acknowledged that without the Iraq war there would be no ISIS 3.
Like most people, I believed Iraq, the Middle East and, indeed, the whole world would have been better off without Saddam Hussein. However, I felt that a policy of diplomatic pressure, deterrence, no-fly zones, sanctions and containment was far preferable to an illegal war 4 to remove him from power – a war which, as of January 2017, is estimated to have led to the deaths of several hundred thousand Iraqis, most of whom were civilians, and cost trillions of dollars, not to mention the lives of the thousands of coalition servicemen and women who died in combat, the ongoing cost of veterans’ care and the financial burden that refugees fleeing Iraq have placed on other nations.
In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, I felt that I had to do something to assist the anti-war movement, so I began organising local protests and travelled to London as often as I could to attend national protests. Like many others, I felt with almost absolute certainty that the strength and diversity of the anti-war movement and the numerous reasoned arguments against using military force would make it all but impossible for the British government to act without the support of the United Nations or a second resolution. This felt especially true after a million people – although many believe the number was nearer two million – marched through the streets of London on February 15th, 2003 in the biggest protest in British history 5. Sadly, however, despite the large-scale public expression of disapproval and disgust, the case against the invasion was dismissed and the country was taken to war under the leadership of Tony Blair and his cabinet.
For me, the protests that took place in the months and years following the invasion of Iraq seemed like futile expressions of anger and disappointment, and served more as a chance to meet and share frustrations with other people who felt as disenfranchised and disillusioned with the political system as I did than meaningful ways to influence government policy and decision-making. The photographs in this portfolio were made between 2002 and 2007 and reflect some of the highs and lows of that period, as well as documenting my experiences.
The protests in 2003 did not stop the invasion of Iraq, or seem to effect any real change at the time, but that period of discontent with the political establishment led to a huge shift in public opinion away from war and radicalised and politicised an entire generation. It also led to a change in the political system to prevent the British prime minister from taking the country to war without the support of the House of Commons. That legal requirement offers some protection against future military adventurism, and is a direct consequence of those protests.
Update: In addition to images of demonstrations against the war in Iraq, I’ve also added a number images I made during the same period at demonstrations against the 2006 Lebanon War, the introduction of student “top-up” fees, the Fire Brigades Union protests of 2002-2003, Pensions Action Group protests, and the Nation of Islam’s Million Man March in London.