On This Day: Millions protest against the Iraq War in coordinated day of action

On February 15, 2003, millions of people across over 600 cities worldwide take to the streets to protest the impending invasion of Iraq. In New York City, approximately 200,000 people gathered in the 25-degree weather to march to the United Nations building, where less than two weeks prior, Secretary of State Colin Powell falsely claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In Europe, crowds were even larger: Some three million are said to have demonstrated in Rome and 750,000 in London. Anti-war organizers reported that the worldwide demonstrations collectively formed the largest peace protest since those opposing the Vietnam War.

At the time, a New York Times analyst remarked of the demonstrations: “There may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.” Nonetheless, just over one month later, on March 19, 2003, the Bush Administration officially sent U.S. military forces into Iraq. It was the beginning of a nearly decade-long occupation.

The legacy of the February 15 protests is debated by those involved. The writer, filmmaker and activist Tariq Ali, who spoke at the London protest, reflected a decade later that: “When they couldn’t stop the war, most of them never came out again. There was a sense of frustration but it did not lead anywhere. It was a huge show of anger but that’s about it. It left no lasting legacy in my opinion.” 

The Iraq War is said to have cost each U.S. taxpayer $8,000, totaling over $2 trillion for the country as a whole. The Department of Defense places the American death count of the war at 4,431. The estimated death count of Iraqis ranges across studies, with a 2013 assessment placing the toll for the duration of U.S. occupation at approximately half a million who died as a result of war-related causes. Millions more Iraqis were displaced. 

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