NEW YORK - Tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets in major towns and cities across the United States today to express their anger and frustration with the Bush administration's policy on Iraq.
On the fifth anniversary of the start of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, peace groups have planned hundreds of demonstrations, marches, rallies, vigils, and prayer meetings.
"It is time to end this war and bring all the troops home," said Leslie Cagan, coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of peace groups that has led dozens of antiwar protests in the past five years.
"We don't want to be back here next year," she added in a statement ahead of the protest in Washington, DC. "We don't want there to be a sixth anniversary."
Since the invasion, which started with the aerial bombing of Baghdad on Mar. 19, 2003, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed. The war has cost the United States billions of dollars and almost 4,000 soldiers.
Cagan, who has been arrested on several occasions for organizing and participating in antiwar marches and rallies, said many demonstrators were ready to get involved in acts of civil disobedience.
Activist groups are due to aim at the White House, corporate headquarters, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building in downtown Washington, DC as the prime targets of civil disobedience.
"You cannot collect our tax money and then hand it over to the government to use for death and destruction," Cagan said. "We will be...in front of the IRS literally attempting to block the functioning of the agency."
Protesters are also due outside the office buildings of major television networks. Activists charge that corporate media outlets such as ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News are directly responsible for the perpetuation of the U.S. military presence in Iraq because of what the demonstrators say is uncritical and unfair coverage.
The most recent coverage of Iraq by the U.S.-based commercial media largely suggests that the Bush administration is justified in its claims that "the surge is working." However, the latest reports from the United Nations and humanitarian organizations tell a different story.
"Despite the heavy presence of U.S. and Iraqi forces, Iraq is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, with hundreds of Iraqi civilians killed every month," said Amnesty International in a new report released this week.
Describing the current situation as "disastrous," the group held the U.S.-led forces and the armed groups opposed to the Iraqi government responsible for unabated violence, including bombings, suicide attacks, kidnappings, and torture.
According to the report, entitled "Carnage and Despair: Iraq Five Years On," since early 2006, violence has intensified and become more sectarian, which has contributed to the current total displacement of over 4 million people.
The report suggests that civilians remain at risk from both U.S. and Iraqi soldiers, with many killed by excessive force and tens of thousands detained without charge or trial. Women are becoming increasingly vulnerable to physical violence.
According to aid group Oxfam International, about 70 percent of Iraqis have no access to safe drinking water and 43 percent are living on the equivalent of less than a dollar per day.
Oxfam's estimates suggest that at least 8 million Iraqis, including a large proportion of women and children, are in need of emergency assistance. The group says about 28 percent of Iraqi children are currently suffering from malnutrition.
According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), about 4.5 million Iraqis have been uprooted by the conflict. These include over 2.5 million displaced within Iraq. Some 2 million Iraqis are currently living in Syria or Jordan as refugees.
Organizers say in addition to Washington, activists will be taking a variety of actions in over 600 places around the United States. Meanwhile, thousands of activists from different parts of the country have already converged on the capital.
"Americans are willing to go the distance, skip work, and even spend precious time away from their families to deliver the message to the war profiteers," said Jodie Evans, co-founder of CODEPINK, a women's group famous for protesting in creative ways.
The group will carry a mobile bed, pajamas, and pink-slips to the White House today, with its members chanting "Wake up America."
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