As opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine mounts globally, an Australian social media activist has drawn a comparison with the US-led war in Iraq by claiming “no one said a word” to oppose the military action of 2003.
But while there are differences between the Russian invasion and the US-led action in Iraq, the claim is countered by historical evidence showing widespread opposition to the 2003 war. Iraq war experts told AAP FactCheck there were many voices, across many nations, that criticised the US invasion.
The claim was made in a Facebook post by “Aussie Cossack” Simeon Boikov, whose aggressive anti-vaccination stance has seen him run foul of Australian police. AAP FactCheck previously debunked Boikov’s claim Queensland was planning to put unvaccinated residents in quarantine camps. He has also featured in a 2021 ABC Four Corners report as the “leader of the Australian Cossacks” promoting pro-Russian sentiment.
Boikov’s post, above a photo of former UK prime minister Tony Blair and former US president George W. Bush, says: “No one said a word when these guys invade a country and killed over a million of its people.” It includes a link to a Wikipedia page on an estimate of casualties from the Iraq conflict.
But contrary to Boikov’s post, there was widespread opposition to the Iraq invasion in 2003, and particularly to its premise: the claimed presence of so-called “weapons of mass destruction” among Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s arsenal.
Sociologist Dieter Rucht, co-author of The World Says No to War: Demonstrations against the war in Iraq, told AAP FactCheck there were many people, both in his native Germany and other countries, that criticised the invasion.
“A slogan of that time was ‘no blood for oil’,” Professor Rucht said in an email.
“A majority of the citizenry in Germany, Spain and several other countries opposed the invasion, and so did many groups of the peace movement and other political movements. This critique prompted a group of – mostly right-leaning – intellectuals to blame the many critics of being flatly anti-American.”
The demonstrations included mass marches on February 15, 2003. The demonstration in Rome made it into the Guinness Book of World Records – a crowd of three million gathered to protest the war. The website’s article adds that according to police figures “millions more demonstrated in nearly 600 cities worldwide”.
The protests extended to Australia, where the Brisbane demonstration was one of the city’s largest and a quarter of a million people filled Sydney’s Hyde Park. Protesters also took to the streets in New Zealand, where the then prime minister Helen Clark refused to send combat troops to Iraq because the invasion wasn’t mandated by the United Nations.
Boikov’s claim also ignores political opposition in the US and UK – the two main military forces involved in the invasion. The 2002 joint resolution for Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq was not unanimously passed by the US Senate. The then senator Barack Obama was a vocal opponent of the war. In Britain, more than 200 MPs voted against the war, including about 140 Labour rebels. European governments were divided over the issue.
The Iraq war protests spilled over into popular culture. Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder was booed by the band’s fans for criticising George W Bush’s military policies. France’s criticism of the war prompted US boycotts of French wine. Some Capitol Hill House office cafeterias changed the name of “french fries” to “freedom fries” and “french toast” to “freedom toast”.
Opposition to the war continued after the initial invasion in March, 2003. In September, 2004, then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the war was “illegal”. In 2016, the so-called Chilcot Report, a report into the Iraq War led by British civil servant Sir John Chilcot, determined that the UK chose to join the invasion before all peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted.
Stefaan Walgrave, a politics and media expert from the University of Antwerp, told AAP FactCheck the claim that “no one said anything” was obviously wrong.
“Many people said many things,” Professor Walgrave said in an email.
“In fact, on February 15, 2003 the largest worldwide protest wave ever was organised. Millions of people in 600 cities demonstrated against the war.
“So, it is fair to say that popular resistance to that war was vocal and strong. But this time, opposition against the war comes from governments and international organisation, which was much less the case in 2003. And popular resistance against what is happening now in Ukraine does take much less the form of protest (against the local government, because it is opposing the war as well).
“So, on balance, I’d say that there definitely was massive popular opposition against the war back in 2003 but it took the form of street protest; now there is primarily a strong institutional opposition against the war (in the Ukraine), taking the form of governments disapproving of it and implementing economic and other sanctions.”
Historical evidence shows widespread global opposition, by governments and citizens, to 2003 Iraq war. There is extensive evidence on record to counter the claim that “no one said a word” in opposition to the US-led invasion.
False – The claim is inaccurate.