On Thu., Jan. 2, the Trump administration announced it had carried out the killing of Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian general considered one of the most powerful people in Iran.
Following the killing, there have been several reports on the likelihood of an escalated war with Iran. The Pentagon announced recently that about 3,500 additional troops were being sent to the Middle East.
On Sat. Jan. 4, in Pittsburgh, more than 200 people gathered in Schenley Plaza to protest any escalation with Iran. The protesters denounced the current conflict in the Middle East, which has been ongoing since 2003, and called for an end to the wars. This was followed up by another, smaller rally in front of the Federal Building in Downtown on Mon. Jan 6. All told, more than 230 people in Pittsburgh protested against the possibility of increased war activity in the Middle East in the week following the killing of Soleimani.
Paul Dordal, an Iraq War veteran who was stationed in Mosul, spoke to the crowd on Saturday and shared his opposition to the war. Dordal said he and other vets are frustrated with the prospect of prolonging or expanding American military presence in the Middle East.
“I am angry, other vets are angry,” said Doral, who organizes with local group Veterans for Peace. “Thousands of lives lost, for what? Nothing, no peace, no increased democracy.”
Soleimani had been instrumental in terroristic events and U.S. officials have said he is responsible for the killings of hundreds of U.S. service members. The Trump administration has claimed Soleimani was close to carrying out another attack against Americans, but has yet to provide details or proof.
Last month, the Washington Post published a report detailing how the U.S. government lied about progress being made by American armed services in Afghanistan. Fighting in Afghanistan has resulted in the deaths of more than 2,300 Americans, and more than 140,000 Afghans, including 31,000 civilians. America has spent more than $1 trillion in that conflict.
Since receiving backlash from protesters, pundits, and presidential candidates — Bernie Sanders chief among them — President Donald Trump has doubled down on his efforts to antagonize Iran. He tweeted last week that he planned to target Iranian cultural sites with attacks as part of an escalated conflict with Iran. Attacking culturally historic sites is considered an international war crime.
Iranians responded with a massive gathering in Tehran for Soleimani’s funeral, and many called for revenge for his killing. Iranian officials said they would no longer comply with the international agreement that kept them from developing nuclear weapons because of Soleimani’s killing. On Sunday, the Iraqi parliament voted to remove all U.S. troops from the country that neighbors Iran. The vote was in response to Soleimani’s death and a rebuke to Trump’s threat to cultural sites. According to news site Axios, Trump officials attempted, but failed, to stop the Iraqi parliament from holding its vote.
Emily Hannon is a Pittsburgh resident and member of the ANSWER Coalition, a national anti-war and civil rights group. The Pittsburgh rally on Saturday was part of a national day of action organized by ANSWER that spanned more than a dozen U.S. cities. In total, thousands protested across the country against an escalation to war with Iran.
Hannon spoke to the Pittsburgh crowd on Saturday and questioned who really benefited from escalations of armed conflicts, and noted that stock prices for weapons manufacturers increased dramatically after Soleimani was killed. “But look at the working class,” said Hannon. “They are suffering and living paycheck to paycheck.”
Last year, Trump requested that 61% of the nation's $1.19 trillion discretionary budget be spent on the military. In that same request, he only asked for 2% to be spent on unemployment and only 5% on housing. On Sunday, Trump tweeted that the U.S. recently spent $2 trillion on military equipment.
Helen Gerhardt, local activist and veteran of the Iraq War, decried the nation’s involvement in war efforts, saying the country was wasting valuable time and resources that could be used to address other problems like climate change.
“The precious resources that could save our planet are instead going towards very few who profit off of war,” said Gerhardt.
University of Pittsburgh student John Wearden cautioned the crowd that only continuous action will help avoid another war. He said that both Republicans and Democrats would be responsible, noting that even if Democrats were critical of Trump’s methods, they weren’t necessarily coming out fully opposed to war.
“If war breaks out, it will be with tacit and implicit support from the Democratic Party,” said Wearden on Saturday.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Scranton) said in a Jan. 3 statement that the “world is safer with [Soleimani] gone” but criticized Trump for failing to provide the legal basis for such a strike and his avoiding of getting Congressional approval. Casey didn’t provide any criticism of a potential escalated conflict. He later tweeted that Trump’s failure to inform Congress of his actions in Iran “make us less safe.”
Wearden said on Saturday that more protests will be necessary to convince politicians to avoid an escalated war.
“Unless we protest more, there will be another war,” said Wearden, who is also a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. “This gathering scares the ruling class.”
On Jan. 6, about 30 people gathered in front of the Federal Building in Downtown to protest an escalated war. The protest was organized by Pittsburgh Anti-Imperialism Committee and the group chanted in front of the Federal Building entranced and encouraged passersby to join them.
Shahid Foroughi, an Iranian-American and member of the anti-imperialism committee, spoke to the crowd and told them the group plans to continually protest to discourage U.S. armed services recruiters.
“We want a relentless campaign against recruiters,” said Foroughi on Jan. 6. “As long as they are trying to recruit working-class people, we won’t stop.”