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Home > Special Topics > Europe Report Last Updated: 15:16 03/09/2007
Europe Report #74: March 24, 2004

Iraq Anniversary in Europe Part One: Iraq War has Little Support in Europe

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

In Europe, the first anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq finds the war just as divisive as it was one year ago. European opinion polls indicate that the vast majority of people were against the conflict. The one-year milestone was greeted by continent-wide anti-war protests. Alarmingly, the present level of European discontent with President George W. Bush's Iraq policy appears to have the potential to hinder transatlantic cooperation in the fight against terrorism and may even lead to the electoral demise of pro-Bush European leaders.

Opinion poll data suggests that instead of creating the unity necessary to effectively combat the threat from international terror, the Iraq conflict has seriously damaged Europe's image of Washington. Currently, President Bush's closest European allies, the leaders of Britain, Italy and Poland, are all under renewed pressure over Iraq.

On the eve of the first anniversary of the conflict, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski was forced to admit that he was misled about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. In Italy, one of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's ministers told the press that the war was a mistake. While in Britain, the country's former Foreign Minister, Robin Cook, said that because of the invasion, Iraq has become a breeding ground for terrorists. He explained, "Terrorism breeds in any area of instability and that is exactly what we have succeeded in creating in Iraq." Cook resigned from Prime Minister Tony Blair's Cabinet over the Iraq war.

Divisions emerge in Italian government
One of Europe's largest demonstrations was held in Rome, where tens of thousands of people poured onto the streets to demand the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq. Fabio Bertoni, a resident of the capital, comments, "Terrorists thrive on hatred. By going to war in Iraq, we are just creating more hate and swelling the ranks of the terrorists. Berlusconi, Bush and Blair are making things worse not better." The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, dismissed such criticism and condemned the demonstrations. He also promised that unlike Spain, Italy would "stay the course" in Iraq.

Despite Berlusconi's defiant tone, serious cracks are emerging in his administration over Iraq. In an interview published in the daily Il Messaggero newspaper, the country's European Affairs Minister, Rocco Buttiglione, said "The war may have been a mistake. Perhaps there were ways it could have been avoided." He added, "What is certain is that it wasn't the best thing to do." Opinion polls show that 70 to 80 percent of Italians opposed the Iraq war.

Warsaw sends out mixed signals
Poland is one of Washington's staunchest European allies in the Iraq war, contributing troops to both the invasion and the occupying force. The country's die-hard support for the war caused a serious rift with its former allies Germany and France. However, recently Warsaw has begun to tone down its unqualified support for the conflict as well as mend relations with its anti-war neighbors. Just before the one-year anniversary, for the first time Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski conceded to journalists that the country may have entered the war under false pretenses. He said, "Of course I feel a certain discomfort that we were misled about weapons of mass destruction." However, he added, "Iraq today, without Saddam Hussein, is a much better place than Iraq with Saddam Hussein."

The Polish government has a difficult line to tread as the majority of Poles do not support the war. Prewar surveys showed over 60 percent of Poles opposed it but at the same time 52 percent said the country should support the United States. This contradictory position allowed Warsaw to dispatch troops. However, recent polls indicate that public support for the country's present role in Iraq is just 35 percent.

Iraq Anniversary in Europe Part Two: UK Divided over Iraq War

Iraq Anniversary in Europe Part Three: Iraq War changed the Finnish Government

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