On February 15, half a million protestors took to the streets of New York City to oppose the war in Iraq. From 42nd Street northwards, it was impossible to move. Every avenue east of Central Park was clogged with protesters of every conceivable political stripe. In one block alone, I saw college students, union workers, “Librarians Against the War” and other assorted people with the bravery to question why we are going to war with Iraq. All this took place to protest a war that, according to Gallup, only 36 percent of Americans support without United Nations approval.
In our own city of Philadelphia, more then 10,000 people marched down Broad Street to show their opposition. Overseas, there were more than 1.5 million in the streets of Rome. There were even protests in Antarctica, as scientists at the McMurdo research station rallied outside their buildings for the cameras of CNN.
Yet, in a speech on February 16, immediately after the protests, President Bush “respectfully disagreed” with the millions of protesters, and called Iraq “a threat to world peace.” He continued to imply that military action in Iraq would occur, with or without U.N. approval.
At this moment in time, U.N. approval looks doubtful, with countries as varied as France and Brazil all voicing their opposition toward U.S. military action in Iraq. Even Turkey has shown ambivalence toward war with Iraq, demanding a multi-billion dollar aid package from the United States, in exchange for using Turkey as a second front. If our allies are using war to extort us, what does that say about the popularity of this war?
This war will not be for the people of Iraq. American plans for post-war Iraq, as revealed in a recent issue of the British newspaper, The Guardian, include a military government for the indefinite future, and more importantly, the loss of autonomy for the Kurds. Kurds, who faced the worst of Saddam Hussein’s violence in poison gas attacks that left tens of thousands dead, currently have an autonomous zone in northern Iraq north thanks to U.N. no-fly zones. In these post-war plans, Iraqi Kurdistan is to be occupied by Turkish soldiers. Turkey’s treatment of Kurds in that country involved the banning of Kurdish language and martial law. Bush’s plans for Iraq mean that Kurds will likely face the same fate.
As for the non-Kurdish citizens of Iraq, Guardian columnist and Brandeis University Professor Kanan Makiya puts it simply: “The plan…envisages the appointment by the U.S. of an unknown number of Iraqi quislings palatable to the Arab countries of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia as a council of advisers to this military government.” Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
The hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets of New York instinctively understand the cynicism and stupidity of Bush’s obsession with Iraq. And they are not alone. Leaning over the barricades at the protest in New York, a police officer asked to bum a cigarette from me. I gave him one and started talking to him and his partner. Ten minutes later, he admitted that if he were off duty, he would be with the protesters.
If officers in the NYPD think Bush is handling Iraq the wrong way, then maybe there’s still hope left.
Neal Ungerleider can be reached at N_terminal@yahoo.com