More than 1.5 million Italians took to the streets of dozens of cities Oct. 5 to protest possible U.S. military action against Iraq – putting heavy pressure on the Italian government to re-think its support of the Bush war drive.

The biggest march was in Rome, where police said as many as 200,000 people participated. In Milan police estimated the numbers at 60,000 to 100,000. Signs in the crowd showed Bush’s head on the body of a hawk. Others showed Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and British leader Tony Blair as Bush’s pets. Other large rallies took place in Bologna, Florence, Naples and Palermo.

“The sight of thousands of Italians on the streets protesting against the potential war in Iraq has to be a sobering sight for government officials,” said Maria Rossi, co-director of the Italian polling firm Opinioni. An Opinioni poll showed that more than two of three Italians opposed any armed conflict over Iraq, and nearly four of five opposed Italian participation in such action unless it was part of a United Nations-sponsored force. The French news agency Agence France Press reports polls showing a majority of Europeans oppose military action against Iraq.

Bush’s Oct. 7 speech attempting to win domestic and international support for a war on Iraq failed to overcome widespread international opposition.

Russia and France, which, along with the U.S., France and China, hold veto power in the UN Security Council, emphasized that they still oppose Bush’s high-pressure campaign for a UN resolution imposing new more stringent conditions for weapons inspections and threatening use of force against Iraq.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said the resolution pushed by the U.S. was disingenuous and contained demands that Washington was “well aware’’ could not be met.

Fedotov said Russia supported France’s proposed two-step solution giving Iraq a chance to comply with UN resolutions before considering any military action. He said Russia has added a clause linking resumption of inspections with lifting of punitive sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1991. Any new resolution must not provide for automatic use of force and must not contain tough measures that Iraq could not accept, Fedotov said.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said armed confrontation with Iraq would be a “great tragedy.” Germans are almost unanimous in backing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s vehement opposition to war on Iraq. A Hamburg poll found 97 percent against any German participation in a war on Iraq, while three-fourths of those surveyed believed Bush was trying to disguise the reasons for an attack.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said war with Iraq should be a last resort. “Military action against Iraq that is perceived as illegitimate … would reinforce the feeling of injustice that prevails in the Arab world today,” he said. Nearly two-thirds of the French people oppose French involvement in a military strike even if it had UN support, according to a recent poll.

Although British Prime Minister Tony Blair continued to back Bush’s drive for war, a survey published in the Guardian newspaper Oct. 1 showed that British support for a war on Iraq has dropped to 33 percent with opposition running at 44 percent.

In Ireland, which currently sits on the Security Council, the public opposes military action by the U.S. without UN approval by a margin of almost three to one, according to a survey published Oct. 1.

The Chinese government responded to Bush’s speech by repeating its disapproved of unilateral U.S. military action, pressing Iraq to comply with all UN resolutions and calling for the rapid return of arms inspectors.

Japan has expressed concerns about military action against Iraq. A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tokyo welcomed Bush’s statement that it remains important to pursue a UN Security Council resolution. In a meeting with Malaysian Defense Minister Najib Razak last week, Koizumi said there was no “guiding principle” to back up an attack and stressed the importance of a UN resolution before any military action is taken.

Malaysian government minister Hishamuddin Hussein said, “We are for the U.S. if it is a force for good but we cannot support the U.S. if it pursues the course of unilateralism with scant regard for world opinion.

“Maybe Saddam is evil, and he must not be allowed to develop weapons of mass destruction, but the UN must be given a chance to explore a peaceful solution,” he said.

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Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.