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Protests Demand U.S. Out of Iraq!

By Jess Sundin

Minneapolis, MN – In December, a year of US threats finally escalated to a full-scale, military assault on Iraq. The bombing campaign caused thousands of Iraqi deaths, and destroyed hospitals, roads, phone lines and civilian factories. President Clinton launched the attack in the midst of impeachment proceedings, in response to a report by chief weapons inspector, Richard Butler. Millions of people around the world protested the attacks, which ended in four days. Protest actions in Minneapolis mobilized hundreds each day.

Protesters said the attack was unjustified. “The US has no right to attack a sovereign nation. Especially one that's devastated by years of sanctions, that's in no position to defend itself,” said Progressive Student Organization member, Frannie Christensen. She added that there is no proof that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

Minneapolis anti-war groups worked with the Iraq Peace Action Coalition (IPAC) to organize protests, meetings, and press conferences during each day of the conflict. The emergency response protest, held Thursday, December 17th, at the downtown Federal Building, turned out 500 people to oppose the US war on Iraq.

On Friday, CISPES (the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) and PSO organized a die-in at the Minneapolis Federal Building, and successfully blocked the public doors for two hours. A sit-in, also on Friday, won a meeting with Senator Paul Wellstone. Saturday, before the last round of bombing, 250 people marched through the Uptown shopping district with banners and chants calling for an end to the war.

For Alan Dale, from the Emergency Committee Against US Intervention in the Persian Gulf, these actions were important, “because this is how you stand up and speak out against these attacks, it strengthens the opposition.” He said, “The anti-war movement made its presence felt, not only in the Twin Cities, but all over the country.”

Christensen, who was one of the 13 protesters arrested at the Federal Building, praised civil disobedience, “We sent a strong message to government officials that we didn't agree with what the government was doing and we weren't going to sit back and let it happen without our protest being heard.” She added, “We were willing to go to jail for it because going to jail for a few hours can't compare to being bombed. And, you have to stand up for what you believe in.”

Protesters frequently criticized the US reasons for launching this attack. Layla Asamurai, from the Minnesota Alliance for Iraqi Children, pointed out that Butler's report cited no new weapons violations by Iraq. In attacking Iraq on flimsy grounds, she says, “The US gave up its rights to ever inspect for weapons. It destroyed the country, and Iraq knew it had nothing to hide. The US lost its credibility.”

According to Alan Dale, “This is all a fight about control of oil profits.” He said, “The US doesn't intervene in the interest of most people, including most people in the US. The US government intervenes in the interest of large multinational corporations.”

Long-time anti-war activists, students, the Arab community, and many concerned community members, workers and activists joined in the protests.

“We see first hand how this government doesn't care about real people,” said Linden Gawboy from the Welfare Rights Committee. “It doesn't take more than two seconds to see what they're doing to the people of Iraq is like the war they're waging on us here. It makes us sick how they kill people and think they can get away with it.”

Stefanie Yorek, who works at the Fairview-University Hospital, said she was there to protest the war because, “They're killing people just like us, for oil profits.”

Students from colleges and high schools all over the Twin Cities played a huge role: Southwest and Hopkins High Schools, the University of Minnesota, Macalester, and many others. “It's really important for students to be aware because it shapes how we'll respond to future world events,” said PSO's Christensen. “We're younger, we're still forming our ideas, and if the youth of today doesn't take action, who will!?”

Protesters believe these mobilizations made a huge impact in the Twin Cities, and will strengthen the movement as events continue to unfold between the US and Iraq.

There appears to be no end to this conflict in sight. President Clinton insists that the sanctions and weapons inspections must continue. Since the December aggression, Iraq has not allowed weapons inspections and has fired on British and American planes attempting to enforce no-fly zones over Iraqi territory.

Organizers say Iraq is correct to defend its rights as a sovereign nation. Alan Dale says, “The no-fly zones are an invention of the US and British governments, and have no basis in any UN resolutions whatsoever.” Frannie Christensen adds, “The US and Britain have no right to impose the no-fly zone on Iraq, and they can't expect their planes not to be shot at, after bombing the country.” They expect the conflict will escalate to another US military assault.

Organizers say the anti-war movement in Minneapolis is still growing stronger, and according to Asamurai, “has a lot of work ahead of it.” IPAC will continue to educate the community, with speakers who've traveled Iraq and public forums with more in-depth information.

In case of another US military attack, Frannie Christensen says, “We're not going to let any time be wasted before responding. We showed there are hundreds ready to act.”

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