Iraq War over; protests continue
The war in Iraq officially ended Thursday, but don't expect the weekly Friday peace protests at John Rich Park to cease anytime soon.
"We're still at war with Afghanistan," points out Bill Habedank, executive director of the local Veterans for Peace chapter.
As of Thursday, the United States officially turned over powers to Iraqi leaders after nearly nine years. America is down to two bases and fewer than 4,000 troops in Iraq. That compares to about 500 military installations and as many as 170,000 troops during the surge ordered by former President George W. Bush in 2007, when violence and raging sectarianism gripped the country.
All U.S. troops are slated to be out of Iraq by the year's end, but officials have indicated they hope to meet that goal by Christmas. The final 4,000, however, will remain across the border in Kuwait.
Veterans for Peace members and associate members, as well as a few concerned citizens who have loosely gone by the name Red Wing Alliance for Peace, began protesting in November 2002. The protesters became fixtures at the park from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. every Friday starting in February 2003 in anticipation of President George W. Bush's directive to invade Iraq.
On March 20, 2003, U.S.-led forces attacked Baghdad by air and stormed in Iraq from the Kuwait desert in what the media came to call "a blaze of shock and awe."
Nearly 4,500 Americans and 100,000 Iraqis died during the long conflict. Another 32,000 American and tens of thousands Iraqis were wounded.
The Congressional Research Service reports the war consumed $806 billion from the U.S. Treasury. That's a figure Paul Drotos of Red Wing, a Veterans for Peace associate member, disputes.
"That doesn't count the cost of ongoing medical issues the troops bring home with them," he said. And then there's the interest the U.S. must pay on the money borrowed to finance the war.
Habedank said people can expect to see citizens carrying signs at the corners of East and West Avenues and Highway 61 for some time because, despite Thursday's announcement, U.S. foreign policy still focuses on war as a solution.
"The apparatus that got us into this mess hasn't changed: We have done nothing to change the military industrial complex," he said. "Iran might be the next victim, and we simply can't afford another war. It's bankrupt us already."
People need to be aware of what's going on, he added.
The protests have reminded citizens every Friday for nearly 460 weeks. The number will grow.
"We haven't talked about stopping," Habedank said. "No matter what the weather, we're always there."