September Object of the Month
‘Don’t Attack Iraq’ Poster
This month’s object of the month is a poster mounted on a heavy sheet of plywood entitled ‘Don’t Attack Iraq’ advertising a protest in London on September 28, 2002 against British and US plans for a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. An estimated 200,000 to 500,000 people participated.
The Iraq war began with the invasion of Iraq by the US UK and several coalition allies on the 20th March 2003. The Bush administration based its rationale for war principally on the assertion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and that Saddam’s government posed an immediate threat to the United States and its coalition allies. The supposed threat was increased with accusations made by elected US officials that Saddam was harbouring and supporting al-Qaeda, the terrorist group who were held responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Others cited the desire to end a repressive dictatorship and bring democracy to the people of Iraq. After the invasion, no substantial evidence was found to verify the initials claims about WMDs. The rationale and misrepresentation of pre-war intelligence faced heavy criticism within the US and internationally.
The invasion led to the collapse of the Ba’athist government; Saddam was captured during Operation Red Dawn in December of that same year and executed by a military court three years later. In the aftermath of the invasion, Iraq held multi-party elections in 2005. Nouri al-Maliki became Prime Minister in 2006 and remained in office until 2014. However the al-Maliki government enacted policies that were widely seen as having the effect of alienating the country’s Sunni minority and worsening sectarian tensions leading to widespread violence between Shia and Sunni Muslims as well as a lengthy insurgency against US and coalition forces.
The Iraq War caused hundreds of thousands of civilian, and thousands of military, casualties. The majority of these occurred as a result of the insurgency and civil conflicts between 2004 and 2007. There were serious legal questions surrounding the launching of the war against Iraq and the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war in general. On 16 September 2004, Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, said of the invasion, “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the Charter point of view, it was illegal.”
The consequences of the invasion and of the conflict within Iraq which followed are still being felt in Iraq and the wider Middle East and the UK today. It left families bereaved and many individuals wounded, mentally as well as physically. On the 6 July 2016 the Chilcot report was published and Sir John Chilcot gave the following statement: “We were appointed to consider the UK’s policy on Iraq from 2001 to 2009, and to identify lessons for the future… The questions for the Inquiry were: whether it was right and necessary to invade Iraq in March 2003; and whether the UK could – and should – have been better prepared for what followed.
We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort”.
Our object of the month this month is currently on display in as part of our Responses to Conflict exhibit. We also have lots of other objects in our collection about the Iraq war and peaceful responses and protests against war, including a copy of the executive summary of the Chilcot report.
Written by Sarah Bartey