NEW YORK - Tens of thousands of people across the United States staged demonstrations over the weekend to protest the continued U.S. occupation of Iraq and the White House's reported plans to attack Iran.Organised by a diverse array of anti-war groups, the nationwide protests were held in more than 10 major cities, including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.
The purpose of Saturday's mass action was to build up pressure on the U.S. Congress. Organisers said they wanted the Congress to take decisive measures against the George W. Bush administration's military-led policies.
"Every month, nearly 100 service people and countless more Iraqis are killed," said Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, a leading anti-war group that has organised several demonstrations since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
"People everywhere want the war to end, but Washington has failed to take decisive action," she added in a statement. "We want this war to end. And want it to end now."
At protest demonstrations, Benjamin and other anti-war campaigners also tried to highlight the impact of war on domestic needs, such as health care and quality education for the children of poor U.S. families.
According to independent estimates, every month, the U.S. government spends at least 12 billion tax dollars on its military operations abroad, which is adding to the economic hardship and suffering of working and middle-class citizens.
Saturday's protests came as the Congress began to consider Bush's request for additional spending on military operations abroad. He has asked for 196.4 billion dollars for war-related operations this budget year.
Last Thursday, the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the country would need at least 2 trillion dollars to continue its military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq for another decade. According to CBO estimates, Washington has already spent about 604 billion dollars on these wars, which also includes 39 billion dollars dedicated to diplomatic operations and foreign aid.
Soon after its release, the administration dismissed the CBO analysis by saying it was based on "speculation".
"It's just a tonne of speculation," said White House spokesperson Dana Perino. "We don't know how much the war is going to cost in the future."
Democratic politicians pointed out the vast difference between the CBO estimates and those the White House offered before the war on Iraq began in 2003.
"That estimate is a far cry from the administration's original claim of a 50-billion-dollar price that the Iraqis could pay themselves," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "The depth of this tragedy is stunning, particularly for our military families -- and for prospects for peace in the region."
However, despite their opposition to the war, so far the Democrats have not given any clear indication that they would take a firm stand against Bush's request for additional money for war.
Political observers say the proposed additional spending on military operations indicates that the plans to carry out an attack on Iran cannot be ruled out. Last week, the Bush administration declared its readiness to roll out an unprecedented package of unilateral sanctions against Tehran.
Independent foreign experts have repeatedly warned about the consequences of such measures, arguing that it would fuel anti-U.S. sentiment throughout the Muslim world, and place at further risk the lives of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We can't bomb a country simply because we don't like it," said Carah Ong, an analyst at the Washington-based Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a policy think tank. "Doing so would be recklessly shortsighted and only strengthen the hands of hard-liners in Iran."
Last week, Bush suggested that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to "World War III." Vice President Dick Cheney also used threatening language against Tehran, saying that Iran would face "serious consequences" if the government there does not abandon its nuclear programme.
Iran has repeatedly said it has no intention to build nuclear weapons and that its atomic program is meant for peaceful purposes, which is its right under the U.N. treaty on nuclear nonproliferation (NPT).
Ong's Centre and many other organisations are currently trying to build pressure on Congress to prevent a military attack against Iran. As the war of words between Washington and Tehran intensified last week, the group started a signature campaign to send a petition to Congress demanding a diplomatic solution.
"If we want to see a change in Iran's behaviour," said Ong, "we must pursue courageous diplomatic leadership to establish a serious, sustained dialogue."
Meanwhile, anti-war groups said they are determined to organise a series of demonstrations against the administration's militarist foreign policy in the coming days. There were no official estimates available, but the United for Peace and Justice, a leading anti-war coalition said there were at least 100,000 people who participated in the Oct. 28 marches and rallies.
© 2007 Inter Press Service