As American military casualties in Iraq surpassed 1,000 deaths, protesters held several demonstrations Wednesday expressing grief and anger at the continuing U.S. military occupation of the country. While reaction to the protests was mixed, political observers cautioned that the significance of the casualty count would depend on media coverage.
“The media doesn’t tell you what to think, but it tells you what to think about,” said John Petrocik, MU professor of political science. “A lot of stories on 1,000 casualties will have people thinking about the Iraq war and that might be consequential.”
In an effort to raise public awareness, Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, a local anti-war organization that rallies weekly against the war, held morning and rush-hour demonstrations at the intersection of Providence Road and Broadway. They also led a protest march at noon to Republican Congressman Kenny Hulshof’s offices and held a vigil at military recruiters’ offices downtown. A few dozen marched at noon and about 20 protested later in the day.
Mark Haim, director of the group, said these demonstrations were anticipated since the beginning of August as the body count approached 1,000.
“We mourn all loss of life, we weren’t rooting for this number or anything like that,” said Ruth Schaeffer, 55, a social worker. “It’s a large number; we just want to use it to tell people to wake up and see what’s happening.”
“Some predicted (the 1,000 threshold) would draw the American public’s attention back to an Iraqi war that seemed sometimes overshadowed in the summer by political conventions and hurricanes,” the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
In a brief speech preceding the march to Hulshof’s office, Haim invited people “who share our perspective that peace is necessary” to join the march. Protesters displayed slogans calling for American troops to be withdrawn from Iraq and held signs highlighting American and Iraqi casualties. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the estimated death toll of Iraqis ranges from 10,000 to 30,000. These figures include insurgents, military personnel and civilians.
Some onlookers at the morning event, held on the MU campus, voiced approval for the war in Iraq.
“I think what we’re doing in Iraq is for a good cause,” said Brittany Barton, an MU sophomore. “I’m a strong supporter of the war, and I think our troops are doing a really good job.”
MU sophomore Stephen Nellis, who sported a black armband in a sign of opposition to the war, praised the protesters and called the demonstration “a vital, necessary part of the democratic process.”
“I think it’s definitely good to see this many people gathered,” he said. “Actually, if anything, I’d like to see more people and I’d like to see them even more heated.” .
According to the Associated Press, U.S. military casualties occurred at the rate of 13 dead each week since the war started in March 2003, with 771 were combat deaths. Beyond Iraq’s borders, the U.S. military reported 135 deaths as a result of post-9/11 actions.
Demonstrators expressed regret for the loss of American and Iraqi lives and anticipated increased public attention to their cause as a result of the growing U.S. casualty count.
“I believe that every son and daughter is a tragedy, and the numbers just keep mounting and it’s significant if anybody’s son or daughter dies,” said Don Howard, 67, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.