Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On 10th anniversary of U.S. invasion of Iraq, protesters gather in Tampa

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2013 at 2:04 PM

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It was at 10:15 p.m. EST on March 19, 2003, when George W. Bush addressed the American public and announced that the U.S. and coalition forces had begun striking targets that were of military importance to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign," he declared.

The rest is 10 years of history, though many Americans rarely think of Iraq anymore, especially after most of our troops were pulled out at the end of 2011. But the anniversary is being observed around the world. In Tampa today, approximately two dozen people gathered at a familiar spot, the corner of Dale Mabry and Gandy, just a short distance away from MacDill Air Force Base. MacDill is the home of U.S. Central Command, and was always referred to as the "nerve center" for the Iraq war.

MSNBC recently aired (and will re-broadcast this Friday) a documentary titled Hubris: Selling the Iraq War. Sam Hazelrig from Tampa said the documentary reinforced his feelings about how the country was "mishandled and bullied, and sold a bill of goods" in the lead-up to the invasion.

"It makes me so angry," Hazelrig said.

Anti-war critics were few and far between in the halls of Congress in the fall of 2002 and winter of 2003, leading up to the war; only 23 senators voted against the invasion.

"We can blame Cheney and the bunch all day long, but we still went for it," Hazelrig said. "And now they say the Democrats are feeling this shame. Well, they should have felt that shame 10 years ago. So many people who probably should have known better."

As he has done so many times throughout the past decade, the protest was organized by Jay Alexander, the founder of the Tampa chapter of Veterans for Peace. The rally was scheduled from 11 a.m to 1:30 p.m., but Alexander told me that I was the only representative from the media to attend the rally when I showed up after noon.

Alexander said the war machinery in the U.S. has grown more sophisticated in the past decade. Where previously we reigned down Cruise missiles, now it's drones that are doing our dirty work in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Another protester, 84-year-old Bud Holle from Riverview, held up a sign that read "Stop the drones." He said his bitterness about the war in Iraq hasn't dissipated.

"I feel now like I did then. I never believed a word (George W. Bush) said," he revealed.

According to an article on The Raw Story, two U.S. professors of public health published their findings in The Lancet, claiming that at least 116,000 Iraqi civilians and more than 4,800 coalition troops died in Iraq from March of 2003 until the end of 2011.

Today, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tweeted that "10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation." The tweet set the social media platform on fire, with intense reactions from all sides.

"The war has sparked more hatred of the U.S. and hurt the perception of our country," said Frances Alicia from St. Petersburg at the protest.

Green Party activist Anita Stewart said that President Obama has perpetuated the war machine that he promised to end.

Obama did campaign explicitly about ending the Iraq war in 2008, and he was in charge when the last U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq in 2011, but a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was actually signed by President Bush agreeing to pull all troops out of the country on that date. Some conservatives blasted Obama for not negotiating a deal with the Iraqi government in 2011 to maintain some type of military force in the country (such is the case decades after the U.S. left war zones in places like South Korea, Japan and Germany).

But Obama never said he would end the war in Afghanistan. In fact, he called it the good war and added troops in 2009, though all forces are now expected to exit the country next year.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary in Iraq, a wave of bombings killed 65 people in the country today, demonstrating that a decade after the war, the Middle Eastern nation's stability and commitment to democracy remain in question.

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