By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
Peace activists gathered in Killeen Monday morning to speak out against U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The event, which was hosted at Killeen's Under the Hood Café, focused on Iraq and the president's recent announcement that U.S. combat operations ended there today. Speakers also questioned the deployment of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment to Iraq. The final of several thousand of the regiment's troopers departed Fort Hood for the Middle East Friday in what military officials call an advise-and-assist mission. Those soldiers will assist Provincial Reconstruction Teams and help prepare Iraqi security forces to care for and protect their own nation.
The 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team will deploy soon for the same mission.
Central Texas activists were in town Aug. 23 to protest the regiment's deployment. As buses carried soldiers from main post to West Fort Hood's Robert Gray Army Airfield, demonstrators waited on the overpass with their headlights turned off, according to information from Fort Hood and videos posted on YouTube by participants.
As the buses drove south on Clarke Road Gate at about 3:40 a.m., the demonstrators held up banners and chanted. Several blocked the buses' path for a short time.
"Acting to protect Department of Defense personnel and equipment, Fort Hood police moved the demonstrators away from the intersection to the sidewalk," read a statement from Fort Hood.
Individuals were released without incident and the bus convoy continued to the airfield, it went on to read.
Post officials did have advance knowledge about the demonstration, they said.
Monday's speakers included Cynthia Thomas, Under the Hood manager; Rep. Lon Burnam, a Democrat from Fort Worth and former director of the Dallas Peace Center; Dr. Dahlia Wasfi, a peace activist of Muslim and Jewish heritage; Larry Egly, of the Peace and Justice Support Network of Mennonite Church USA; and Leslie Cunningham, of Texas Labor Against the War.
CodePink Austin, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans For Peace were also represented.
Monday's event was just one of two in Central Texas "aimed at peeling back the mass deception surrounding 'the end of combat operations,'" according to information from Under the Hood. The first was a talk in Austin Sunday featuring Wasfi.
Most Americans are lulled to sleep because they think the war is over, Burnam said. He attacked Presidents Bush and Obama, saying the "expansionist" war was an illegal and immoral occupation - something that was fiscally wrong to start seven years ago.
Burnam heavily criticized the Iraq war's financial burden on the country, saying it was wrong for Bush to start two "outrageous" wars while providing tax cuts. Burnam said he was tired of officials using the "financial back of us working folks" to fund conflicts, and quoted a 1953 speech by President Dwight Eisenhower: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."
It is time for Obama to end the occupation, end tax cuts for the rich and cure a deficit that will hurt "our children and grandchildren," Burnam went on to say.
Thomas said Under the Hood started a telephone campaign to make sure non-deployable soldiers were not deployed. The organization has previously worked with soldiers and families from the regiment who said they were not fit to deploy.
The administration and command know there aren't enough soldiers to cover two wars, Thomas said, and they continue to ignore family members and soldiers instead of focusing on their well-being.
"This community is not going to be able to survive it much longer," she said.
The 1 percent of the U.S. population in uniform are the ones fighting and paying the most, Thomas said.
If people really wanted to support the troops, they would be fighting for them to come home, she added.
For more information
Under the Hood is located at 17 S. College St. It is open daily from 5 to 10 p.m. Visit the café online at www.underthehoodcafe.org.
For more information about Texas Labor Against the War, visit www.txlaboragainstwar.org or call (512) 470-8485.
Peace and Justice Support Network of Mennonite Church USA can be found online at http://peace.mennolink.org.
Dr. Dahlia Wasfi's prepared remarks
Dr. Dahlia Wasfi is an American citizen. Her father is from Iraq and her mother is a "nice Jewish girl" from New York. Wasfi spoke during Monday's event at Under the Hood Café and Outreach Center, and said references to "we" in her talk referred to "Americans." Read more about Wasfi at www.liberatethis.com. The following are her prepared remarks:
"I speak to you today on behalf of relatives on my mother's side: Ashkenazi Jews who fled their homeland of Austria during Hitler's Anschluss. It is for them that we say, 'never again.' I speak to you today on behalf of relatives on my father's side who are not living, but dying, under the occupation of the Bush and Obama administrations' deadly foray in Iraq. From the lack of security to the lack of basic supplies to the lack of electricity to the lack of potable water to the lack of jobs to the lack of reconstruction to the lack of education to the lack of healthcare to the lack of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, they are much worse off now than before we invaded. 'Never again' should apply to them, too.
"Let's step back in time for a moment. In the late 1700's, the American colonies fought the revolutionary war to gain independence from their British occupiers. When Lord Cornwallis surrendered to the commander of the Continental Army, George Washington accepted his sword. He did not approve a remaining force of 50,000 Redcoats armed with muskets and cannons on the East Coast in a 'diplomatic advisory role.' Nor did Washington ask England's King George to write the Constitution or oversee the election that named him the first president of the United States. That's why he's remembered as the 'Father of Our Country' and not as a British stooge.
"George W. Bush's speech on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, declaring the end to major combat operations in Iraq was nothing more than a PR stunt. Now Barack Obama is putting on the same show - this time without the fancy 'Mission Accomplished' banner. Make no mistake. As long as U.S. military, mercenaries, and central intelligence agents are in Iraq, Iraq is under occupation. This is simply the next phase of our colonial control of that land and all the oil that lies beneath.
"The invasion of Iraq was illegal. Iraq and her people never posed a threat to our national security. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. Iraq was not responsible for the events of Sept. 11, 2001. We invaded Iraq in order to eliminate a foe of our colonial outpost in the region - the settler state of Israel. We invaded Iraq in order to steal control of the billions of barrels of oil away from Iraqis. We invaded Iraq in order to impose an economic occupation, supported by the military occupation that continues today.
"But the American assault on the people of Iraq did not begin on March 20th, 2003. It began long before that, when the American CIA helped bring Saddam Hussein to power. Yes, he was a brutal dictator whose regime was founded on political repression. That's why we should not have been arming him with conventional, biological and chemical weapons during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War. And while officially, we were supporting Iraq during the 1980's, U.S. administrators were secretly arming Iran under the table, in what later came to light as the Iran-Contra Scandal. One of the players in that criminal scheme was a high-ranking member of the CIA named Robert Gates. But Gates never faced prosecution. Instead, he is now our Secretary of Defense, directing the implementation of what we can now call the Bush/Obama Doctrine of illegal military assault. The inmates are running the asylum.
"Following the Iran/Iraq War ceasefire in 1988, Iraq planned a $40 billion reconstruction project to rebuild the destruction of eight years of war. However, the Kuwaiti royal family was stymieing Iraq's oil revenues by flooding the market and stealing Iraqi oil under their border. After numerous failed attempts at negotiations, on Aug. 2, 1990, Iraqi troops moved into Kuwait. "Now, in the last 30 years, when Israel has violated the sovereignty of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, or repeatedly invaded the occupied territories of Palestine, there have been - and continue to be - no consequences for the Zionist state. But in response to the occupation of Kuwait, the U.S. and U.K. led the onslaught of the 1991 Gulf War. In those six weeks from January through March of 1991, in gross violation of international law, we led a direct assault on the people of Iraq with 88,000 tons of bombs. We targeted civilian infrastructure, including electricity plants, water treatment facilities and telecommunication centers.
"Destruction of Iraq's electrical grids incapacitated the medical system - what had a first-class range of facilities known as the 'jewel of the Arab world.' After January 1991, primary healthcare and preventative services ceased to exist, and with economic sanctions, there were critical shortages of food and life-saving drugs and equipment. In the 1990's, cholera became endemic in Iraq. Easily treatable diseases - such as respiratory infections and diarrhea - accounted for 70 percent of the deaths of children under 5 years old. By 1997, more than 1 million of Iraq's children were starving. This was a man-made humanitarian disaster. In addition, bombs continued to fall on southern Iraq from American and British planes enforcing the artificial no-fly zones. By 2003, the toll of U.S. policy on Iraqis was an estimated 1.2 to 1.8 million dead - about 5 percent of the population. This calamity was the tragic state of Iraqi society when the illegal Shock and Awe invasion came, and with it, a vastly increased number of patients. The worst was yet to come.
"With the dissolution of law and order came the looting of Iraq's hospitals. In the years after the invasion, lack of security delayed the delivery of supplies. With massive corruption from American administrators and their Iraqi stooges, no money was being distributed from the U.S.-operated Ministry of Health. Billions of dollars have gone missing.
"By October 2006, due to the desperate conditions in Iraq of no security, high crime, and targeted assassinations, it was estimated that only 16,000 of Iraq's 34,000 physicians remained. Two thousand doctors and 164 nurses had been murdered, and another 250 kidnapped for high-price ransoms. By 2008, only 9,000 doctors were working in Iraq, many of them inexperienced and untrained. Iraqis call their health system 'beheaded.' At least 68 percent of Iraqis lack access to safe drinking water. Eighty-one percent are without proper sewerage.
"And the segments of the population who suffer the most whenever there is no law and order are women and children. In 2005, one in eight Iraqi children died of disease or violence before reaching the age of 5. By 2007, according to the State of the World's Mothers Report by Save the Children, the chance that an Iraqi child will live beyond age 5 has plummeted faster in Iraq than anywhere else in the world since 1990. Today, there are an estimated 1 to 2 million widows in occupied Iraq, and an estimated 5 million children who have lost a parent to what we call 'democracy.'
"At least 800,000 Iraqi children are not in school due to the chaos, lack of security and severe poverty. An estimated 500,000 are orphaned and living on the streets, where they are susceptible to crime, kidnapping, and abduction for human trafficking. In 2008, a Swedish investigative report documented a market selling Iraqi children in the U.S.-enclave of the Green Zone in Baghdad. This is human trafficking by the occupiers of the most vulnerable of Iraq's treasures.
"This is the American legacy in Iraq. Does anyone really believe that Iraqis fight U.S soldiers and Marines because they hate our freedoms? That is absurd. What would we do if foreign forces came to our shores and threatened our lives? You better believe we'd fight back. We'd be insurgents. And we wouldn't be fighting for Bush or Obama anymore than Iraqis are fighting for Saddam Hussein. We would fight for our lives, our families, our societies, our independence, our dignity. We would launch legitimate resistance to illegal occupation. That is why Iraqis fight.
"Iraqis kill U.S. troops because that's the only choice we've given them. From 58,000 Americans in Vietnam to 283 Marines in Lebanon to 19 U.S. service members in Somalia, we have taught our victims around the world that the only way to effect a change in American foreign policy is to spill American blood. In America, the millions of lives of the other nationalities that our policies and military have taken simply don't count.
"In Iraq, since our illegal invasion, there are an estimated over 1.3 million dead - more than four times the estimated number killed under the Ba'athist regime, in a fraction of the time. More than 5 million Iraqis are displaced from their homes. Over centuries, Baghdad was known as the 'City of Peace.' Since 2003, under American control, Baghdad has earned the titles of 'World's Worst Standard of Living' and 'Most Dangerous City in the World.'
"So, do you know what Iraqis are saying? I don't speak Arabic, but I can tell you. 'Get. Out.'
"Every IED: That's Iraqis saying, 'Go home.'
"Every RPG fired: That's Iraqis saying, 'Pack up and leave.'
"Every sniper's shot: That's Iraqis saying, 'We reject your bloodthirsty imperialist crusade.'
"The policymakers in Washington say we cannot leave Iraq or Afghanistan until there is security. Well, what have we done to secure impoverished, starving people? What have American weaponry and American racism done for them? U.S. military members are programmed to view Iraqis as sub-human. They know them as hajis or ragheads or sandniggers. Iraq does not have security because we are there. The reason for our military presence in Iraq - as it is in so many places around the world - is to install and support a regime that protects American interests - not the interests of Iraqis. As a matter of fact, the worse off Iraqis are, the easier it is for the empire trying to control them. The truth is that modern-day Iraqis are the descendents of ancients who devised the first system of writing, the 24-hour day, the fundamentals of mathematics, law, science and medicine. Iraq is the cradle of civilization. Once American businesses, military, death squads, prisons and bombings are out of the picture, true reconstruction by Iraqis can and will begin.
"The Iraqis are in it, alright. The ones missing in action are the American people. In a country of (more than) 300 million people, we have only two political parties, neither one of which represents us, the people. They work for mega-corporate interests, who as we and the rest of the world know, are continually profiting from the devastation of war and occupation. The responsibility is ours and the time has already come for us to think outside of the box and take matters into our own hands.
"When we leave Iraq, that country has the potential to become a safe haven ... for Iraqi children.
"When we leave Afghanistan, that country has the potential to become a safe haven ... for Afghani children.
"When U.S. forces come home, this country has the potential to become a safe haven for its children. Let us not send American kids overseas to kill. Let us spend the costs of occupation - over 12 billion dollars a month - to send them to college. Let us arm the youth of our country with an education instead of an M16.
"As long as American forces remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, there will be carnage.
"But I guarantee you this. When U.S. troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, they will stop dying there, and that is the only thing that will accomplish that mission. Thank you."