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Germany

Iraq War Fatigue Poses Challenge for German Peace Movement

After five years, carnage in Iraq has become a sad part of our daily reality. The German peace movement is no longer able to mobilize huge protests. Instead they're trying to suggest pragmatic, and global, solutions.

US soldiers standing in half circle around a map in Iraq

After five years, no one knows how long foreign troops will remain in Iraq

After as many as one million war-related casualties, and up to four million displaced persons and refugees, Iraq often seems no closer to peace than when the US launched initial air strikes on Baghdad on March 20, 2003.

German anti-war organizations are marking the anniversary with protests -- in Heidelberg and Mannheim, for instance, demonstrators are staging a 24-hour sit-in outside the nearby US Army headquarters. And the Iraq War will feature in this weekend's traditional peace marches around the country.

The majority of Germans remain opposed to the US-led military campaign, and enthusiasm is waning in the US as well. Ironically, though, there's also war fatigue among the peace activists.

Mother mourns dead child

Casualty rates among civilians -- and especially children -- are appalling

"People get used to everything," Manfred Stenner, the head of the Network of Peace Cooperatives, told DW-WORLD. "The outrage cools off, and the Iraq War is one topic among many at the Easter marches. You can't always be in total alarm mode. We have to accept that."

Joachim Guilliard, a journalist and initiator of the group International People's Tribunal on the Aggression against Iraq, or ITI, concurs.

"The media reports paint a false picture," Guilliard said. "Major insurgent attacks make the news, but you never get details about ongoing US military operations, which -- without denying the problem of terrorism -- cause the majority of the violence. It is very difficult to mobilize people with this false picture."

Change in strategy

London anti-war protestors

Anti-war activists throughout Europe are holding rallies on the annivesary

Whereas the anti-war movement in the past tried to prevent the US-led invasion, then called for a more-or-less immediate withdrawal of coalition forces, today peace activists are focusing on exit strategies.

At a conference in Berlin earlier this month, ITI members sketched out what they thought was the way forward for ending the violence in Iraq. Their idea is to institute a general ceasefire, have US troops withdraw to their bases and gradually be replaced by peacekeepers from neutral, preferably Muslim countries, and then commence negotiations among all parties in the various conflicts.

Guilliard admits the plan has weaknesses, particularly as to who would lead the potential peacekeepers, but he says it's part of a new pragmatic approach to ending what's become a dismal cycle of violence and retribution.

Bush on aircraft carrier

George W. Bush declared major combat operations in Iraq over on May 1, 2003

"You can't withdraw all the troops from one day to the next," Guilliard said. "But we need a reasonable, six-month plan. It's an idea that comes from the Iraqi opposition."

Peace organizations are also trying to address what they see as the underlying material interests for the war -- chiefly oil. That involves working more closely with environmental activists.

"During the first Gulf War of 1991, our slogan was 'No Blood for Oil,' and we're trying to address the causes of war," said Stenner. "In order to prevent future conflicts over oil reserves, we need to renounce using fossil fuels."

"The Iraq War is an attempt to secure oil fields," Guilliard said. "Instead of doing that, we should be trying to use less energy."

Positive and negative visions

Wounded in hospital

At least 53 people were killed, and 130 wounded, in a single bomb attack in Baghdad earlier this month

But few peace activists kid themselves that violence in Iraq will be eradicated any time soon. They agree that strife would likely continue even if the US under a new president is persuaded to pull out of Iraq.

"I have little hope for the next few years since with every month of the occupation the Iraqi state continues to disintegrate into countless tiny parts," Guilliard said. "I also don't see a majority in Washington. Even Barack Obama says he only wants to withdraw combat troops, not all US forces. It will take at least three or four years until the Americans are sick and tired of bearing the costs."

The best hope for Iraq, activists think, is for the various factions within the country to be given a chance to negotiate without outside interference.

US soldier putting flag on Hussein statue's face

Nearly 4000 US soldiers have died in Iraq, and costs could reach $1.9 trillion

"Let the various groups within the populace find their own solutions," Stenner said. "Iraq is a very old civilization with reasonable people from all religious groups and ethnicities. In any case that approach promises more success than the one we have now."

And the consensus is that all the disputes in the Middle East and the Muslim world -- whether they involve the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the controversy around Iran's possible nuclear program and its future role in the region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or fundamentalist terrorism -- are connected.

"A compromise that took into account the interests of all concerned would remove the ground from under al Qaeda's feet," Stenner said. "It's sometimes easier to solve everything at once than to tackle every problem individually."

This sort of holistic solution is unlikely to become reality any time in the immediate future, but there's little peace activists in Germany and elsewhere in the world can do other than to propose alternatives to a conflict that threatens to continue long beyond its already grim fifth anniversary.

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