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Global protests reassert opposition to the US presence in the Middle East

January 27, 2020 at 2:40 pm

Iranians take part in an anti-US rally to protest the killings during a US air strike of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on 4 January, 2020 in Tehran, Iran [Majid Saeedi/Getty Images]

Last Saturday was a global day of protest against US aggression against Iran and America’s continued military presence in the Middle East. Thousands of people came out in 117 US cities and major cities across 19 countries in an act of solidary with the global anti-war movement.

“The danger of a new and wider war in the Middle East — a war with Iran — remains a real and terrible possibility,” explained Richard Becker, the Western Regional Coordinator with the anti-war ANSWER (“Act Now to Stop War and End Racism”) Coalition.

The Coalition and other anti-war groups held an emergency demonstration on 4 January, which saw 20,000 people in the streets of 80 major US cities in the wake of the assassination of Iranian General Qassam Soleimani. Iran retaliated by striking two US military bases in Iraq; there are conflicting reports about any casualties.

Since then, US President Donald Trump has backed away from a war with Iran and instead imposed harsher sanctions against the country. Despite this de-escalation, thousands of protesters returned to the streets on Saturday with the ANSWER Coalition, CODEPINK, and dozens of other sponsoring groups, to solidify the massive public sentiment against America’s violence and its ongoing military presence in the region.

Under banners proclaiming “No War in Iran” and “US Troops out of Iraq”, the solidarity protests came just one day after almost one million Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad to call for the removal of US troops from their country and an end to what many call an occupation.

“There are now more than 800 [US military] bases around the world. It’s unlike anything that’s ever existed before,” Becker explained. “It’s really militarism in the service of empire.” He pointed out that the US has spent trillions of dollars on wars — $6.4 trillion since 2001, to be exact — which is money that could have been used to solve the myriad of domestic problems in the US, such as access to “adequate food, clean water, education, healthcare, and housing. But it’s been wasted and used for spreading death and destruction.”

The National Organising Director of the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC), Donna Farvard, spoke at the Washington protest. She highlighted how Trump has been bringing the US into direct confrontation with Iran ever since he pulled out of the Obama-era nuclear deal.

“At the end of the day, [Trump and Pence] do not care about the people of Iran,” Farvard said emphatically to the crowd of a few hundred people next to the White House lawn, putting emphasis on the devastating effect that harsher US-imposed sanctions have had on the country. “They just want regime collapse so they can have access to the resources inside Iran that they have so longed for.”

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Farvard pointed out the impact that Trump’s escalation with Iran has had on Iranians living in the US: increased surveillance of Iranian-American communities (most notably in Washington and Los Angeles); detentions of citizens and Green Card holders at ports of entry; students of Iranian heritage being deported upon arrival at US airports despite having valid visas.

US has been seeking a war with Iran for decades [Cartoon by Carlos Latuff/Instagram]

The US has been seeking a war with Iran for decades [Cartoon by Carlos Latuff/Instagram]

US wars in the Middle East and related domestic policies also affect the Arab-American community. “Donald Trump has been, in many ways, one of the most violent presidents for the Arab-American community,” claimed Wassim Hage, a senior official of the Arab Organising and Resource Centre and co-host of the San Francisco protest on Saturday. He cited the damage caused by Trump’s “Muslim Ban” and the irony of continued US militarism being a prime cause of rising numbers of refugees and asylum seekers hoping to come to the US, but can’t.

“It is important to understand that Trump only has the executive capacity to wage this kind of violence on our communities because of the legacy of presidents before him,” added Hage. “This includes Obama; this includes Bush.” He mentioned the Authorisation for Use of Military Force (AUMF), an act passed just weeks after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the fuel behind the global “War on Terror”, as being at least one reason why the US executive has been able to wage “endless wars” in the Middle East over the past two decades. A bill is currently in the House of Representatives that would repeal the AUMF in an attempt by the US Congress to rein-in Trump’s ability to wage war without Congressional oversight and approval.

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A central theme of Saturday’s protests, and of the global anti-war movement in general, was its intersectionality with all struggles for justice and dignity. Parallels were consistently drawn to US interventionism in Latin America, the occupation of Palestine and even the cutting of social services in the US.

“We have more in common with the Iranian people than we do with our own politicians,” said Hadra, a youth organiser with Students against Imperialism at George Washington University, during the DC protest. “Our economic conditions are closer to the reality of the people in Venezuela and Iran than they are with the billionaires and the Wall Street bankers. You want to tell us that these people are our enemies? That we’re supposed to be fighting them? The reality is that we all have a united enemy, and that is the United States Empire. That is the Wall Street bankers. That is the military-industrial complex.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.