Australians protest Iraq war

Issue 

As part of an international weekend of protest on the fourth anniversary of the US-British-Australian invasion of Iraq, 800 people participated in an anti-war rally and march on March 17 that began at Sydney Town Hall.

Demanding an end to the US-led war in Iraq, the protesters also called for the Australian troops and Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks to be brought home.

Speakers at the protest, organised by the Sydney Stop the War Coalition, included Greens Senator Kerry Nettle, NSW Labor MLC Meredith Burgmann, NSW Council of Civil Liberties vice-president David Burnie and Maritime Union union of Australia Sydney assistant branch secretary Paul Garrett.

Burnie said that Guantanamo Bay was not a detention centre but a "torture centre" that is "setting up a precedent which devalues human rights across the world". Garrett warned the NSW Labor government that any attempt to lock down the city during the September APEC summit "would be met by more and more protests".

While the numbers were down on some previous anti-war protests in Sydney, all speakers pointed out that the overwhelming majority of Australians oppose the war in Iraq and want the troops to come home.

A spirited march, led by Jakalene X, an Indigenous rap artist and Socialist Alliance activist, ended up in Belmore Park where rap musicians treated the crowd to songs. The crowd strongly agreed on the need to protest against more Australian troops being sent to Afghanistan, and for huge protests when US President George Bush comes to Sydney in September. To get involved, visit .

In Melbourne, reported Marcus Greville, 1000-1500 people gathered at the State Library on March 17 in a loud and colourful rally organised by the Melbourne Stop the War Coalition and Civil Rights Defence. Participants, a large proportion of whom were young people, marched to the Liberal Party headquarters, which was blockaded by mounted police.

The protesters' demands — "Troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan", "Repeal the terror laws" and "Free David Hicks" — were addressed by a wide range of speakers, including: Veronika Quinton from the Islamic Girls/Women's Group, who spoke about life in Iraq for ordinary Iraqis; Mary Baxter, a peace activist recently returned from Palestine; Iraqi-born Nasser Al Khateeb from the Federation of Australian Muslim Students and Youth; and the Socialist Alliance's Margarita Windisch.

Colin Mitchell from Civil Rights Defence told the crowd that the Australian people need to be protected from Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and PM John Howard, not from David Hicks and Jack Thomas. The Stop the War Coalition's Tim Doughney received a loud cheer when he declared, "We will continue to build this campaign to force Howard and Rudd to withdraw all Australian troops from where they are not welcome".

Steve O'Brien reported that 200 people, many of them wearing bright orange "Bring David Home" T-shirts, heard Maha and Mamdouh Habib recount their personal experience of the "war on terror" at the Newcastle rally on March 17. Pauline Wright from the Council for Civil Liberties addressed the crowd, as did Newcastle candidates in the NSW state election Bryce Gaudry (independent) and Michael Osborne (Greens). Amber Pike from the socialist youth organisation Resistance and John Mills, the retiring state Labor MP for Wallsend, also spoke.

The protesters marched to nearby Gregson Park for music and a chance to ask questions of the Habibs at an impromptu teach-in. The rally and march was organised by Newcastle's No War Collective.

Barry Healy reported from Perth that 400 people assembled in Northbridge to hear speakers before a spirited march through the streets. Peter Tinley, a recently retired Australian SAS officer who had, in 2002, participated in drawing up the Pentagon's Iraq invasion plan, told the crowd that there never were any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that the entire war is illegitimate. He added that it didn't matter if people disagreed about some of the details of what should happen next in Iraq; the important thing is to not stop campaigning to end the conflict.

Other speakers were WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Islamic College students Reyhan Oz and Hannah Magar, Fremantle Labor MP Carmen Lawrence, Democrats spokesperson Erica Lewin and Victoria Martin-Iverson from the anti-war group Just Peace.

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