Day For Marching

by Medea BenjaminPage A23 - Washington Post
March 20th, 2004

Thousands of Americans today will mark the first anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq by marching against the war. Why, if the war is officially over and Saddam Hussein has been captured, will residents of some 200 American cities join others around the world and take to the streets? Those of us who have traveled to Iraq to witness firsthand the effects of this occupation have returned with some profound reasons.

We are marching for Jesus Suarez, a Marine who died when he stepped on an American cluster bomb in Iraq on March 27, and for the more than 500 U.S. servicemen and women who have died in Iraq. Suarez left behind a young wife, a 1-year-old son and bereaved parents who are angered by the injustice of his death.

"Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction and wasn't connected to the September 11 tragedy. George Bush lied, and my son died," said a tearful Fernando Suarez at an unofficial memorial for the fallen soldiers outside Dover Air Force Base, where the bodies of U.S. soldiers are brought home and which is off limits to scrutiny by the media.

We are marching because we don't want any more of our soldiers to die. We want the United States out, and the United Nations in.

We are marching for Yanar Mohammad, head of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, and others who are aghast at how the U.S. invasion has undermined women and strengthened the hand of conservative Islamists. Iraqi women were stunned when the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council recently tried to nullify Iraq's 1959 family code, considered among the most progressive in the Middle East, and place such vital issues as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance under Muslim religious jurisdiction.

"Yes, we wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but the U.S. has appointed people to power who would like to institutionalize and legalize the oppression of women," Mohammad said at a Baghdad protest on March 8, International Women's Day. "This is not liberation."

We are marching to support the call from Iraqi women for significant representation in the new Iraqi government.

We are marching for Bushra Said and the thousands of innocent Iraqis who have been killed, wounded or hurt by the occupying forces. Said, a young mother, was widowed when U.S. soldiers, driving by in their tanks, pumped eight bullets into the chest of her husband, Mazen Nouradin, as he waited to hail a taxi to go to work. The soldiers, always nervous from being under attack, had heard shots and fired randomly into the street. The bereaved Said asked U.S. authorities for an explanation, an apology, help with the funeral, and financial assistance for her children. She has received nothing.

We are marching because more than 10,000 innocent Iraqis have died since the U.S. invasion and many thousands more have been wounded, and because we believe the U.S. government must count, acknowledge and provide assistance to them.

We are marching for Fala Hassan and the staff of the Qadissiya Hospital in Sadr City. The staff told our U.S. delegation that children in the hospitals were dying because of shortages of basic medicines and equipment such as catheters, IVs and oxygen cylinders. The staff complained bitterly that even at the height of U.N. sanctions, when shortages were rampant, the hospitals were not as barren as they are today.

We are marching for Issam Achmed, an unemployed engineer, and the thousands upon thousands of skilled Iraqis who want to rebuild their country but are not given the opportunity. According to Achmed, one of the main reasons the United States has done such a bad job of fixing basic infrastructure destroyed by the war is that the reconstruction is in the hands of U.S. companies such as Halliburton and Bechtel instead of Iraqis themselves.

We are marching because we believe that the United States has a responsibility to pay for rebuilding Iraq, but that Iraqis, not American companies with friends in the administration, are best positioned to do the work.

We are marching for our children and our families, who have been put at risk by the growing anti-American sentiment stemming from George W. Bush's doctrine of preemptive strikes, his arrogant use of force and his contempt for international law. We are marching because we don't want to continue to squander billions of our tax dollars on war when the funds are needed to provide the public with health care, decent schools and new forms of energy that can eliminate our dependence on other nations' oil.

Finally, we are marching to say that come November, the American people must hold their leaders accountable for taking us into this illegal, unnecessary and disastrous war.

The writer is co-founder of the human rights group Global Exchange and the women's peace group CodePink.

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