Soldiers' Families Protest War in Iraq
By Bob Dart
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Thursday 14 August 2003
WASHINGTON - His voice cracking with emotion, Fernando Suarez del Solar spoke Wednesday of his son, Jesus, a Marine killed on the sands of Iraq.
"My son will not return but we want those other children to return to their families," said Suarez, who came from California to the nation's capital to help launch a campaign to "Bring Them Home Now."
The grieving father was among an unlikely band of anti-war activists -- military families and veterans -- who gathered to demand an end to the "U.S. occupation of Iraq" and an immediate return of American troops to their home bases. They expressed outrage that President Bush would issue a "macho" challenge to the Iraqis shooting at their endangered sons and daughters while he was safe, protected by the Secret Service.
"George Bush said 'Bring them on.' We say 'Bring them home now,"' said Nancy Lessin, whose stepson, Joe, is a Marine who recently returned to the United States after serving in Iraq for about 10 months. "Supporting the troops does not mean supporting the invasion and occupation."
"Our troops have become oppressors and occupiers in a hostile nation," said Susan Schuman of Shelburne Falls, Mass., whose son, Justin, is a sergeant in the Massachusetts National Guard and has been in Iraq since late March.
In Baghdad, however, America's civilian administrator said U.S. troops will be needed for the foreseeable future.
"We have to get a sovereign Iraqi government in place here," L. Paul Bremer told ABC's "Good Morning America". "The question then is how long it takes to get a sovereign government."
He said "my guess is it would take six to eight months" for Iraqis to write a constitution and then an election would be held. Then the new government would have to be able to maintain security. The top U.S. civilian official in Iraq said the Bush administration just cannot say specifically when the troops will come home.
"Nobody is hiding anything here," said Bremer. "We don't know the answer to that question."
At a press conference in Washington, the anti-war activists said the president and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have stuck their sons and daughters in a dangerous quagmire with vague goals and no exit strategy.
"If the end of violence is a precursor of our leaving Iraq, we will never leave," said Michael McPherson, a former Army artillery officer from Fayetteville, N.C., whose 18-year- old son is planning to join the Army in September. He said the region has been unstable for decades, if not centuries.
Acknowledging that much of the military community views their movement with dismay, Lessin said said the anti-war group "Military Families Speak Out" has a membership of 600 families and "is growing every day." As more U.S. soldiers die and no weapons of mass destruction are found, the war is losing support among the loved ones of the military men and woman who are enduring the danger and hardships in Iraq, she said.
The activists said they had no statistics on how many military families or soldiers in Iraq support their position. But they dismissed charges that their activities are undermining morale. They insisted that no one cares more about the troops than their families do -- especially not the administration that promoted the war.
"George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld care about the troops in the same way that Tyson Foods cares about chickens," said Stan Goff, a retired Army master sergeant who served in the Rangers and Special Forces counter-terrorist units. His son, Jessie, is also in the Army and recently deployed to Iraq.
At the Pentagon, military officials expressed sympathy for the families and said they intended to provide more certainty in the length of tours in Iraq.
"We feel the same grief that the parents do, clearly," Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz told reporters. "And every commander up and down the line surely does."
"Iraq remains a dangerous place," said Lawrence Dirita, special assistant to the Secretary of Defense. "If a parent has a son or a daughter in Iraq, it's perfectly understandable that they would be concerned about that....
"And they're going to express their views as they see fit."
The military officials said a rotation policy will provide needed predictability for the soldiers and their families.
"The tours will be up to one year in length," said Schwartz. " But each individual will know when they will be home, and that is exactly the kind of knowledge which each and every one of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines deserves."
Nearly 150,000 U.S. military personnel are currently in Iraq.
Since Bush proclaimed the end of major combat operations on May 1, there have been 58 more combat deaths, with the latest U.S. soldier killed Wednesday, according to U.S. Central Command. Overall, 267 service members have died in hostile and non-hostile operations since the military operation began, the Associated Press reported.
Polls show that public support for the military mission in Iraq has slipped.
About 42 percent of U.S. adults describe themselves as "not certain" that committing troops was the right thing to do, according to a national poll released Wednesday by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University. That compared to 31 percent in a similar poll taken in May, shortly after Bush declared that major fighting had ended.
In Baghdad, Bremer said U.S. forces are doing their jobs well.
"The American soldiers here are not sitting ducks," he said. "Force protection is their first job, and they do a very good job of it. It doesn't mean you can eliminate casualties. You can't."