U.S. veterans make their voice heard in anti-war crowd
www.chinaview.cn 2009-03-22 07:50:31   Print

    WASHINGTON, March 21 (Xinhua) -- Although the size of anti-war demonstrations is shrinking in the United States, a group of veterans has become more visible in the crowd of demonstrations.

    The group, known as Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), has been actively involved in a series of protests to mark the sixth anniversary of the Iraq in recent days.

    Dressed in black T-shirts and military Khaki pants, the group's presence is evident among thousands of anti-war protesters who took part in the rally in Washington D.C. Saturday.

    The veterans erected a makeshift "watch tower" on the ground and posted a big banner on it, which says "Operation no change," a critical expression of President Barack Obama's new plans for Iraq.

    On March 19, the group launched a 24-hour vigil or demonstration across the White House, the first anti-war protest in Washington D.C. on this Iraq war's anniversary.

    The IVAW, founded in 2004 and headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has about 1,600 members with 53 chapters, including those in overseas U.S. military bases.

    The organization advocates immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq and full benefits for war veterans.

    "What Obama is doing with our foreign policy on a fundamental level is not change. Though we are going to re-label the troops non-combat troops, they are still out there," argued Adam Kokesh, a prominent figure of the IVAW.

    Kokesh, a decorated former Marine served in Iraq, made his name by interrupting John McCain's speech accepting the Republican nomination for president hopeful on Sept. 4 last year by yelling anti-war slogans in the audience.

    He does not endorse the policy of McCain's Democratic opponent Obama, either.

    Obama has been known for his opposition to the Iraq war and won staunch support from anti-war activists in last year's presidential election.

    However, his decision last month to pull out all U.S. combat troops in 18 months, three months later than the timetable he promised during the campaign, was not well received among the anti-war crowds.

    In particular, they criticized him for keeping a large presence of 50,000 non-combat troops in Iraq beyond August 2010 and planning to increase troop levels in Afghanistan.

    "Any occupation is a crime," another IVAW member, Mike Mlekowski, told Xinhua.

    "No war is better than any other war. Russians have failed in Afghanistan and I don't see any reason how can we work out there after the disaster in Iraq," he said.

    "While the people in America lose their jobs and homes, the government still plans to spend billions of U.S. dollars into another war. This is not what I want," said Kyle Simgh, another IVAW member who had been in Iraq for two years.

    "I also feel sorry for the Iraqi people. Their lives haven't been any better after the invasion," he said.

    However, a number of IVAW members thought Obama is serious in getting U.S. troops out of Iraq.

    Tracy Harmon, one of them, said while she is disappointed with Obama's decision, she still believes the president is sincere about his intention to withdraw from Iraq.

    Some IVAW members voiced concerns and frustrations of their lives after returning from Iraq.

    One of them is Floyd Holt from Connecticut, who remains unemployed and struggles to feed his young family. He has an 8-month son and his wife is recently pregnant again.

    "I am feeling bad. We fought a wrong war and we don't get due compensations," he said.

    Like many of the soldiers who served in Iraq, Holt was diagnosed with PTSD or the post traumatic stress disorder, which affects 20 percent of the veterans returning from Iraq according to official estimate.

    Holt said he hasn't received any treatment or compensation for his disease from the government.

    "Sometimes I have bad dreams about horrible things I saw in Iraq. I may regret for fighting the war but I won't regret for joining the anti-war course," he said.

    With a clear timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq and improving ground conditions there, the ranks of U.S. anti-war crowds are shrinking.

    However, the rallies and presence of anti-war activists including IVAW members, have reminded people that the Iraq war, even on a changed course, is still a controversial issue in the country, analysts said.        

Editor: Mo Hong'e
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