The July 4th Independence Day holiday will feature numerous expressions of support for U.S. troops serving in harm's way. A coalition of anti-war groups feels the best way to back America's servicemen and women is to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. Hundreds of activists, politicians and celebrities are preparing to launch a fast to press their case.
The list of anticipated fasters includes anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, mother of an American serviceman killed in Iraq, and Michael Berg, the father of an American citizen who was captured by insurgents in Iraq and later beheaded.
Several members of Congress are expected to take part, as well as a British and a Canadian lawmaker. Actors Danny Glover, Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, as well as country musician Willie Nelson, are among a long list of celebrities.
"For some of us, it is an open-ended fast, meaning we are not sure how long we will go, but we are determined to go as long as our bodies allow us to," said Medea Benjamin, who helped organize the event, called "Troops Home Fast."
Beginning Tuesday, a contingent of fasters will gather every day in front of the White House, while others take part from their hometowns.
"We are very frustrated. Here we are, more than three years into this war, and we see no end in sight. We would like the troops to come home [from Iraq] as soon as possible. We are open to hearing what a timeline [for withdrawal] set by Congress would be," she added.
President Bush has steadfastly refused to set a timetable for withdrawing American forces from Iraq, arguing that doing so would embolden Iraqi insurgents, as well as terrorists worldwide. Mr. Bush says U.S. troops will come home only when Iraqi forces are able to stand on their own and defend their country's nascent democracy.
Protest organizer Medea Benjamin says, far from quelling violence in Iraq, the U.S. military presence is stoking violent passions and allowing the country's rival factions and ethnic groups to drag their feet when it comes to confronting killers and insurgents.
"Unfortunately, there is tremendous violence going on every day in Iraq, and the presence of U.S. troops is not stopping that," noted Benjamin. "In fact, we feel that the presence of U.S. troops is making it worse. We feel that the best way we can show our support for the soldiers is to bring them out of a war where they are not wanted and [not] welcomed by the local people."
Officials in Iraq's new unity government have expressed a desire to see foreign troops leave their country, but are quick to add that ground conditions do not permit a pullout at this time.
In the United States, public opinion surveys have shown Americans are growing increasingly pessimistic about the U.S. mission in Iraq. Nevertheless, polls show most Americans do not support an immediate troop withdrawal.