News Release

Feb. 15 at 15: Iraq Invasion Opposition and the “Second Super Power”


Feb. 15, 2003, 15 years ago Thursday, saw massive protests around the world opposing the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, which began on March 20.

MIKE ZMOLEK, mike.zmolek at
Zmolek served as national coordinator for the National Network to End the War Against Iraq (NNEWAI) between 2001 and 2004. He now teaches history and international studies at the University of Iowa. He said today: “On February 15, 2003, an estimated 15 million people world-wide took to the streets to protest the impending U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, shattering any prior records for turnout at popular protests. There were massive protests in London, Madrid, New York, Barcelona, Rome, Johannesburg, Tokyo, Hong Kong and hundreds of other cities, leading the New York Times to call the anti-war movement the ‘second super power.’ [See news video clips and excerpt from documentary “February 15th, 2003: The Day the World Said No to War.”]

“The date had been set by the Stop the War Coalition in Britain, then chaired by Jeremy Corbyn — now leader of the Labor Party. I organized a reception for Corbyn in Washington, D.C. in January 2003 and played an instrumental role in persuading the then recently-formed United for Peace (and Justice) Coalition to organize U.S. participation in the Feb. 15 protests.

“It was not a done deal that the U.S. coalition would join in that day. Much of the leadership of the coalition actually opposed it, but ultimately, they saw the wisdom in following the UK’s lead.

“At the time, most of us knew the protests were coming too late to stop the invasion. Had we been able to galvanize such large protests say, six months earlier, we might well have halted the invasion, which destabilized Iraq and brought massive suffering and destruction to its people.

“Our grassroots coalition, NNEWAI, commemorated the date one year later by organizing vigils in 120 cities internationally, most in the U.S. The idea of building on the show of strength shown on Feb. 15, 2003 never caught on with major national peace groups, however, as they chose instead to organize mid-March events, on the anniversary of the invasion — meaning we were commemorating our inability to stop the invasion.

“Other protests held shortly before the elections in D.C while Bush was in office became largely an ‘anti-Bush’ thing. When Obama came into office, turnout for protests inside the U.S. decreased dramatically and the Obama administration was effectively able continue to prosecute these wars largely unopposed.

“In the age of Trump, we are back to a policy outlook which echos Mahmood Mamdani’s book title Good Muslims, Bad Muslims, where it is acceptable to support ‘our Muslims,’ whilst ‘bad Muslims’ are to be targeted. This reification of the Arab other-as-terrorist serves as a damper on critiques of the U.S.-led or sponsored wars in the Middle East. Showing solidarity with that region’s oppressed is generally framed by the media as showing sympathy for terrorism, so the left is largely mute when it comes to these wars, which have been a boon for military contractors but a disaster for the peoples Southwest Asia, while the right applauds them.

“With the rise of the menacing ISIS, which grew out of the destabilization of the region following the U.S. invasion, it was as if all past sins were forgiven. Even as Trump now seeks, once again, to put the U.S. on a path to ‘victory’ by escalating the violence, President Bush is seeking to rehabilitate himself by jumping on the anti-Trump / anti-Russia bandwagon led by the Democratic Party establishment.”

After the break-up of NNEWAI in late 2004, Zmolek assisted in the drafting of several congressional resolutions calling for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney for Representatives Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).