Hundreds of thousands of people will take to the streets in Britain and around the world today to protest over the presence of British and American troops in Iraq, amid increasing official recognition that the country is slipping into civil war.
Organisers of the mass demonstration, timed to mark the third anniversary of the morning President George Bush declared war on Iraq on 20 March 2003, hope it will attract similar numbers to the million who protested in London in February that year.
In London this morning, protesters will gather in Parliament Square and march to Trafalgar Square for a rally to be addressed by MPs and other anti-war activists. Similar protests will take place in Basra and Baghdad, as well as in New York, Madrid, Rome, Sydney and many other major cities, calling for the removal of troops.
The march will pass the offices of the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, to underline the allegation that the war was illegal and that Britain and the US are guilty of war crimes. Both Lord Goldsmith's office and the United Nations are already considering a letter, drafted by Tony Benn, the veteran peace campaigner, and co-signed by more than 1,000 leading figures, detailing 28 alleged breaches of the Nuremberg Charter and the Geneva and Hague Conventions.
In Iraq, there were suggestions that the much-trumpeted assault on insurgents, code-named Operation Swarmer, around the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, was little more than a show of strength designed to intimidate the insurgents. United States military officials claimed the operation, involving 50 helicopters, was the biggest "air assault" since a similar airlift across Iraq just after the war in late April 2003.
Elsewhere in Iraq, the violence continued. Among several incidents, three bodies with bullet holes to the head and signs of torture were found in Baghdad - apparently part of a wave of sectarian violence that has left more than 100 corpses dumped in the city since Monday.
Significantly, the US second-in-command in the country said yesterday that while the plan was for the Iraqi government security forces to control about 75 per cent of Iraqi territory by "the end of summer", the country appeared closer to civil war than at any time since March 2003. "The possibility of civil war may be higher today than it has been in the last three years, yet I believe we are still far away from such an event," said Lieutenant-General Peter Chiarelli. He added that the Iraqi security forces currently controlled about 50 per cent of the country.
Lindsey German, convener of the Stop the War Coalition, said the demonstrations were the first time there would be co-ordinated simultaneous protests in Britain, Iraq and the United States. She added: "We believe a peaceful solution to the chaos caused by the illegal war in Iraq will only be possible when the occupying foreign armies have all been removed, so that the Iraqi people will be free to decide on their own political future.''
The letter from Mr Benn accusing Britain and the US of war crimes includes claims that both countries were involved in "planning and conducting an aggressive war using deceit, including deliberately falsifying reports to arouse passion in support of this war" - a reference to various dossiers presented to Parliament and to the United Nations, which have been largely discredited.
The UN has told Mr Benn that the letter raises "matters of extremely serious concern". The Attorney General's office has promised a reply by early April.Reuse content