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GI Families Becoming Leaders In Iraq War Resistance

by Katrin Dauenhauer

"They can't use] our children, our spouses, and our siblings. This is not our war"
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- With U.S. soldiers in Iraq for more than 150 days, further deployment more likely than withdrawal, and the American death toll rising daily, the public at home is increasingly wary of supporting the war.

Joining the renewed wave of opposition, launched months ago by millions of peace activists worldwide, are families of soldiers stationed in Iraq.

Founded last November to oppose war in Iraq, Military Families Speak Out now includes more than 600 military families.

Galvanized by President George W. Bush's "Bring 'em on" challenge to the armed Iraqi resistance, the group, along with Veterans for Peace, Citizen Soldier and others, launched 'Bring Them Home Now', a campaign aimed at ending the U.S. adventure in Iraq.

Within a couple of days, more than 5,000 people reacted to the campaign's kick-off last week. The vast majority supported the project, said Nancy Lessin, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, in an interview Wednesday.

"We believe that U.S. resources are needed to help Iraq develop, but it can't be under U.S. military control. Otherwise we see more and more resistance. We need to bring our troops home to have appropriate discussions about what has to be done," Lessin told IPS.

"As military veterans and families, we understand that hardship is sometimes part of the job. But there has to be an honest and compelling reason to impose these hardships and risks on our troops, our families, and our communities. The reasons given for the occupation of Iraq do not rise to this standard," she continued.

According to Vietnam War veteran Stan Goff, "our family members, including my son, are now exposed to 120-degree heat, daily multiple attacks, a toxic environment, and the probability of post-traumatic mental illness, in a war that was undertaken on false pretences to advance the interests of an economic elite."

"Rich men decide on war, but rich people don't fight them," he told IPS on Wednesday.

"If Bechtel and Halliburton -- companies awarded multimillion-dollar contracts to rebuild Iraq -- want Iraq, let their executives and managers strap on the body armor, pick up an M-4, and head right on down to Fallujah or Baghdad."

"We'll even let them use our helicopters and Hummers. But not our children, our spouses, and our siblings. This is not our war," he added.

A growing number of Americans appear to believe the country's forces do not belong in Iraq.

According to a survey conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University, released last week, public confidence in U.S. military involvement in Iraq has eroded recently, with some 42 percent of adults describing themselves as "not certain" that committing troops was the right thing to do.

In a May survey, 41 percent of respondents said they were still "absolutely certain" about the troop commitment.

Congress has also grown doubtful about the invasion, with officials like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz coming under strong attacks in recent committee appearances over what the administration really knew about alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

According to Iraqi Coalition Casualty Count, a website documenting deaths in that country, since March 20, 269 U.S. and 47 British soldiers have been killed in Iraq, on average about two a day.

At the same time, the financial costs are rising. According to Veterans for Peace, estimates from the Congressional budget office reveal the costs of war in Iraq already exceed more than $69 billion.

"We are trying to encourage military families to speak out against the war and to bring pressure on the military command. I think by Christmas there will be a very deep opposition in this country against this war," Tod Ensign, director of Citizen Soldier told IPS on Monday.

"During Vietnam, the GIs actually led a movement against the war and I think we will see some of that again."

Stephen Funk, a Marine Corps reservist, spoke out. Afterwards he was charged with desertion and now awaits his trial, Sept. 4.

"In the face of this unjust war based on deception by our leaders, I could not remain silent. I spoke out so that others in the military would realize that they also have a choice and a duty to resist immoral and illegitimate orders," Funk said in a statement.

Funk, who is openly gay, has been supported by and is part of an international anti-war movement. For example, Payday, an international, multiracial network of men working with the Global Women's Strike, launched a campaign on its website to defend Funk.

In addition, Payday is planning a support rally in San Francisco on the first day of Funk's trial.

The Israel Draft Resisters Parents' Forum also issued a letter in support of Funk.

"People our age should not be moving targets, denied their human and civil rights; they should not be military grunts, exposed to harm in mind and body, lugging around M-16s and guilty consciences; they should not be thrown behind bars for not wanting to kill and die," wrote Matan Kaminer, a conscientious objector now on trial in an Israeli military court, in a letter to Funk last week.

Another example is Ghanim Khalil, an active reservist from New York. When his commander told the unit that their deployment in Iraq was only a matter of time, he took publicly opposed the war, citing political, economic and religious reasons.

"I opposed the United States' unilateralist approach, and I realized that the people who were driving the war were mainly interested in controlling the oil. Furthermore, it was going against the moral standards within Islam."

"Many people believe I simply opposed the war because I'm a Muslim, but many Jews and Christians were against this war as well. Religion definitely played a role, but not the only role," Khalil told IPS on Wednesday.

According to Woody Powell, executive director of Veterans for Peace: "We were led into this war under dubious circumstances. We should not have gone in there in the first place and the reasons -- in retrospect -- have turned out to be specious."

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Albion Monitor August 20, 2003 (

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