Plans are under way around the country for anti-war protests on March 16 — the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. This year the anniversary rallies coincide with Palm Sunday, a traditional day of peace movement mobilisation in Australia.
The Sydney Stop the War Coalition (StWC) has been promoting the idea of a major mobilisation on March 16 since before the successful Stop Bush protest in September. The rally will be at 1pm in Belmore Park and is organised around the demand "All troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan". The rally will also call for defence of civil liberties and repeal of the so-called "anti-terror" laws.
StWC is touring US Labor Against the War leader Kathy Black in the three weeks leading up to March 16. Black will be a featured speaker at the Sydney rally.
"This will be the first major anti-war rally since the Rudd government was elected on the platform of withdrawing 'combat troops' from Iraq", StWC activist Alex Bainbridge told Green Left Weekly.
"Rudd's policy is a response to popular anti-war sentiment but disguises Labor's continuing strong support for US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan", Bainbridge continued.
"This goes against what most people want to see: an end to the wars in the Middle East. This year's anniversary protests are a chance to pressure the new ALP government to break completely with a failed foreign policy. Australians want the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan."
The StWC had been negotiating to jointly organise the anniversary protest, and a multi-faith service, with the Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition (SPJC). However, on February 6, Peter Murphy from the SPJC announced that they would organise a separate Palm Sunday rally in Parramatta starting half an hour later than the city rally.
The SPJC rally is focused around the theme of "Make Australia a global citizen again". Other demands are: "All troops out of Iraq", "Support democracy in Iran" and "Political solution in Afghanistan".
"We had been working hard to build a united rally on March 16 to maximise its political impact", Bainbridge told GLW.
"We had already agreed on a series of compromises, the main sticking point seeming to be the particular formulations on Iran and Afghanistan insisted on by SPJC. We had suggested 'Hands off Iran', but we were preparing for more discussions. StWC is disappointed that SPJC had already decided against a joint rally."
In Melbourne, a broad Palm Sunday committee — involving the Medical Association for Prevention of War, Pax Christi, Melbourne Stop the War Coalition, Unity for Peace, Campaign for International Cooperation and Development and others — is organising a rally for 2pm at the State Library.
Palm Sunday events will also take place in Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, Hobart and Kempsey.