NEW YORK -
A leading coalition of peace groups in the United States is planning to stage nationwide protests against the U.S. war in Iraq on Mar. 19, the day when U.S.-led military forces invaded that country three years ago.
The group, which has organised a series of massive anti-war rallies in the past, says its renewed campaign will be focused on blocking U.S. military recruiting centres in hundreds of cities and towns across the country.
"This anniversary of the war is a provocation for us," Larry Holmes of the International Action Centre told a gathering of antiwar activists here this week.
"At this anniversary, we will start shutting down the military's recruiting centres," he added.
Last October, several anti-war protesters, including 18 grandmothers of U.S. soldiers, were arrested after they attempted to block the way into U.S. Army recruiting centres.
Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, up to 100,000 Iraqi civilians are believed to have been killed. And according to official accounts, more than 2,100 U.S. soldiers have died and more than 16,000 been injured.
Organisers say in addition to targeting the U.S. presence in Iraq, this year's protests will also warn Washington against a possible military action against Iran.
"We are threatening Iran when we have more nuclear weapons than anyone else," Ramsey Clark, former U.S. attorney-general and founder of the International Action Centre, who is helping represent former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, told activists.
"We kill, we murder, we torture, we assassinate, we can't go on like this," he said, adding that any U.S. military action in Iran would bring "nothing but more misery" for millions of people in the region.
The U.S. and other Western powers accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, but Tehran denies that charge and asserts that its nuclear programme is aimed at generating electricity in accordance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Though not ruling out a possible military action against Iran, the former chief prosecutor of the United States said he believed that at the moment, the U.S. did not have the "military capacity to go into Iran".
Currently, more than 140,000 U.S. troops are based in Iraq, and the U.S. military's drive to recruit new soldiers at home is apparently failing to get a desirable response.
"Closing down recruiting centres is getting important," Clark said, "because that's the way you can force your government to slash the military budget."
Washington's current annual military spending exceeds 400 billion dollars -- about half of what the entire world allocates for its defence-related activities.
In addition to massive loss of human life in Iraq, the ever-increasing cost of the war is another issue that seems to have added fuel to growing impatience in the U.S. with the George W. Bush administration.
A new study released this month suggests that the real cost of the U.S. war in Iraq is likely to be between one and two trillion dollars, an amount 10 times more than previously thought.
Written by Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2001, and Linda Bilmes, a Harvard budget expert, the report concludes that the U.S. government is continuing to underestimate the cost of the war.
The authors say their research is based on traditional estimates that include costs such as lifetime disability and healthcare for troops wounded in the conflict, as well as the impact on the U.S. economy.
During the early days of the war, the White House appeared certain that the cost would remain far less. In 2003, Larry Lindsey, a White House economic advisor, estimated the cost at around 200 billion dollars, which prompted the then-deputy chief of the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz, to say that Iraq could finance its own reconstruction.
The Republican-dominated U.S. Congress has allocated 251 billion dollars for military operations, and its budget office now estimates that the Iraq war may cost another 230 billion dollars in the next 10 years.
Stiglitz and Bilmes say the Congressional estimates did not include some substantial future costs. For instance, they say the cost of lifetime care for the thousands of troops who have suffered brain injuries in the battlefield alone could run to 35 billion dollars.
And taking into account the spending on disability payments and demobilisation, the economists say it is likely that the budgetary cost alone could reach one trillion dollars. They said their research did not include the cost of the war to the U.S. allies and Iraq.
Activists say the enormous cost of war is not only adding to the burden of U.S. taxpayers, but making life harsher than ever before for millions of Iraqis as well.
"The Bush administration's war is coming back to the U.S. cities," said the IAC's Sara Flounders. "There are cuts in social programmes here. There is increased repression and domestic surveillance here."
And in Iraq, she adds, "half of the population has no access to potable water. The price of fuel in that oil-rich nation has increased six-fold and the electricity is available for two hours at best."
"The anger against the Bush administration is growing every where in the world," she said. "We will turn this anger into a massive movement to demand 'bring the troops home now.'"
Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service.