15 February 2003: The day that Spain said 'no' to war on Iraq

The protest that took place in Malaga on 15 February 2003.
The protest that took place in Malaga on 15 February 2003. / SUR
  • Throughout the country, and indeed the rest of the world, millions of people marched in protest against the invasion and war on Iraq led by the United States of America

Sixteen years ago it is estimated that around 10 million people took to the streets, all over the world, to protest against the Iraqi war. It was the largest anti-war protest and remains to be the biggest one-day global demonstration the world has ever seen. While figures are not exact, it is estimated that 700 cities worldwide hosted demonstrations against Bush's invasion of Iraq.

Some of the biggest protests took place in Europe. In Rome it is estimated that 2.5 million people were involved, with London reaching 1.5 million. In Madrid also around 1.5 million were seen taking to the streets with banners that read 'Not in our name' and 'No blood for oil', in the biggest mass demonstration Spain had seen since the death of Franco. More locally, in Malaga, around 50,000 people (according to SUR, although other sources quote 150,000) marched through the city protesting against the impending conflict.

Throughout 2002, anti-war protests around the world were gathering momentum. The USA, Britain and Spain were all pushing for a second resolution from the United Nations Security Council. This, if approved, would have legitimised the invasion of Iraq.

On 5 February 2003, Colin Powell, then the US secretary of state, made his notorious speech outlining the evidence that the then Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, had weapons of mass destruction. Powell's evidence would later turn out to be entirely false. This speech sparked outrage among anti-war protesters, leading to the world demonstration of 15 February.

At the time of the protest citizens were of the opinion that a demonstration of this size could stop the invasion of Iraq. Years on, it became obvious that this would have been highly unlikely, but the impact the protests had cannot be underestimated.

Being the largest anti-war protest ever recorded, the 2003 demonstrations showed the overwhelming sense of unity throughout the world. Despite the fact that George Bush barely addressed them, the protests showed a huge amount of strength. Some journalists at the time even described them as "defining a generation".

Perhaps the most significant quote came from Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, who spoke at the New York protest, addressing Bush personally. "Listen to the voice of the people saying, 'Give peace a chance'."