Peace groups across the United States marked the 3,000th U.S. military death in Iraq with protests and vigils this weekend and promised to continue to press to end the war.
"We're very saddened at the death, but we feel it's very important that not one more dollar be spent on this war in Iraq," Janis Shields of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) told OneWorld.
The Quaker group put out a call for anti-war activists to rally across the country on New Year's Day to mourn American and Iraqi casualties in the war. A study published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, puts the number of Iraqi casualties at more than 600,000.
The Web site for AFSC lists 335 vigils in 46 states--from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Tacoma, Washington.
The number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq passed 3,000 on New Year's Eve. By Monday the death toll had reached 3,004--31 more than died in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The Veterans Administration (VA) reports more than 150,000 veterans of the recent Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are receiving disability benefits. Approximately 70,000 are using the VA's mental health services.
"We had no idea the war would go on this long or kill so many people," said Chuck Nixon, who helps co-ordinate a weekly memorial in Santa Monica, California known as Arlington West. "When we started doing our project of making a memorial there were just 400 crosses. That was back in February '04. By Mother's Day it had gone up to 800."
The memorial is sponsored by the Los Angeles chapter of Veterans for Peace, which sets up crosses every Sunday on Santa Monica's beach to remember American soldiers killed in Iraq. The group added candles to mark the 3,000th death.
In addition to this week's commemorations, peace groups have planned two major demonstrations for Washington this month, timed to coincide with Congress' transition to Democratic leadership.
Gold Star Families for Peace, an organization founded by prominent anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan after her son was killed in Iraq, is planning a rally in Washington on January 3-4 to press for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, as well as the impeachment of President George W. Bush.
United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of more than 1,300 U.S. peace groups, will stage a march in Washington on January 27 and urged supporters to arrange meetings with members of the new Congress on January 29 so they can lobby for an end to the war.
As for Nixon, he plans to press on with the Santa Monica memorial. "It's just a sad thing that there are 3,000 people who were sons, daughters, husbands, or fathers. That's 3,000 families that are not having a very happy New Year."
The response to the memorial has been overwhelmingly positive, Nixon added. "On New Year's Eve when we reached 3,000 deaths there were two active duty marines that came up to me--one had just come back from Iraq and the other was in training. They personally thanked us for setting up the memorial. They said they thought it was very nice that somebody cared enough to do that."
Nixon hopes when the war is over his group will be able to set up a permanent memorial to the war's dead on the west coast. Some 306 California soldiers have died in Iraq, the most of any state in the country.
"It wouldn't be as large as the Vietnam memorial," he said. "But it would be the same idea. It would have granite walls and names engraved. A permanent memorial would be nice for the families who live here. They'd have a place to visit and remember their loved ones."
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