'Panic' in No10 over Iraq protests

Public opposition to a war in Iraq caused "panic" in Downing Street and almost brought down former Prime Minister Tony Blair, according to a new book.

The People v Tony Blair, published to mark the 10th anniversary of the huge anti-war protests on February 15, 2003, said the world-wide protests were held amid international "disarray" about the war.

More than a million people took to the streets on February 15 2003, in a massive show of anti-war sentiment, with thousands not reaching a rally in London's Hyde Park because of the numbers taking part.

Author Chris Nineham, a founder member of Stop the War Coalition, said a series of protest records were broken, with up to two million joining the February 15 event, the biggest weekday protest some months later when George Bush visited London, and the largest wartime march shortly after the bombing started.

He said: "The received wisdom is that Blair and his team sailed through those months blithely ignoring all criticism, unimpressed by popular protest and unconcerned by public doubt. Largely of course, this is because he did in the end get away with it; the parliamentary revolt was contained - just - and the war went ahead with all its predicted horror.

"But it is not just that. Panic and disarray don't fit the 'Teflon Tony' image that has been constructed by Blair and his admirers. More generally the last thing rulers want to do is admit they have been shaken by the action of those they rule.

"So it should come as no surprise that it is only years after Tony Blair's resignation that the full extent of the crisis caused by opposition to the Iraq war has begun to surface," said the book.

The main anniversary event is a Stop The War Coalition conference on Saturday, with speakers from Iraq, Afghanistan and the United States, as well as the UK, who will say that the warnings of millions of people a decade ago have been "horribly vindicated".

Lindsey German, convenor of the coalition, who helped to organise the London protest 10 years ago, said it was an "absolute travesty of democracy" that the UK went ahead with the war, saying: "It was shameful that Blair ignored the protests and went ahead with his war. He has got away with it but I would still like to see him brought to court."

Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament agreed, saying: "He should be tried for war crimes. CND put together a very strong legal case, but the buck has always been passed beyond him."