The Times, Trenton

Iraq War Protesters Praise Obama

The Times of Trenton — Friday, March 20, 2009

BY MEIR RINDE

TRENTON — President Obama plans to withdraw all but 50,000 American troops from Iraq by August 2010, but that's far from satisfactory for peace activists who have been protesting the war since it began.

A group of them braved the rain to stand outside the State House yesterday and cheer on speakers who marked the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq and denounced the ongoing conflict and U.S. foreign policy.

They praised Obama for moving to end the war, but criticized him for lengthening his original 16-month timetable for withdrawal and for agreeing to leave some troops in Iraq through 2011.

"There have been some tentative baby steps toward ending the war, but it is not enough," said the Rev. Carol Haag, a retired Unitarian Universalist minister from Princeton Township. "The preemptive war against Iraq was wrong six years ago. It is still wrong today."

The speakers included Dante Zappala, whose brother, Sgt. Sherwood Baker of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, was killed in Iraq in 2004 while providing security for officials looking for weapons of massive destruction.

"People think that this war is over. But for some the war will never be over," said Zappala, a member of the group Military Families Speak Out. "For my nephew, who at 14 years old will live the rest of his life without his father, the war will never be over."

Christine Colonnese, president of the ACTION student group at The College of New Jersey and an education major, said it was unconscionable that billions have been spent on the war while children live in poverty in the U.S. and many schools do not adequately educate students.

The U.S. economy is now in an "Iraq depression" caused partly by the costs of the war, said the Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of Coalition for Peace Action, which organized the event.

The other speakers were Atif Malik, an organizer with NJ Citizen Action; Vietnam veteran Bruce Tornari; and two members of Seminarians for Peace and Justice, Josiah Ewing and Patrick Heery.

Ewing read a poem condemning U.S. foreign policy and Heery, a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, told the crowd of about 20 people that the use of torture by U.S. agents has tainted the nation.

"A country does not torture without forfeiting the very ideals it was fighting to preserve," he said. "Torture does not make our world safer. It only escalates the conflict."

Yesterday's event was one of 13 in the region the Coalition was sponsoring or co-sponsoring, Moore said. The group also planned a candlelight march last night beginning at Princeton Seminary, followed by a prayer vigil at Tiger Park in Palmer Square.

Colonnese said ACTION is also arranging a free bus trip to Washington, D.C., on Saturday for those wishing to participate in a national antiwar march and rally.

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