WASHINGTON -- Code Pink won national attention during the presidency of George W. Bush for its high-profile protests against the Iraq War. On Monday evening, the anti-war group was back organizing a rally against the Obama administration's launching of an aerial campaign in northern Iraq.
But the contrast between this latest protest and those of the past was jarring: Just seven people showed up.
Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin told The Huffington Post not to read too much into the low turnout, which she attributed to anti-war activist burnout. Demonstrations against the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have taken up much of their time over the past few weeks. She also said there was a lack of public understanding about the the administration's real intent in Iraq.
"Some people think it's really part of a humanitarian mission, which they don't want to oppose," Benjamin said. "I don't think the small turnout reflects the breadth of opposition to the bombing, and if the bombing continues, the protests will grow."
Last Thursday, President Barack Obama announced that he had authorized targeted airstrikes to protect Iraqi civilians and Americans in the country from the military advance of the Islamic State. Obama also said that the United States had dropped 5,300 gallons of fresh drinking water and 8,000 prepackaged meals to help tens of thousands of Yazidis stranded on a mountain in northern Iraq.
The activists who did attend Monday's protest said that they opposed bombing for any purpose in Iraq and argued that the United States was motivated by financial, not humanitarian, interests in the region. They were also skeptical that military action could lead to any kind of stability in the region and pointed to Libya as a country where they said bombing had produced instability.
Still, the small turnout did not deter Benjamin from forcefully criticizing the Obama administration for taking military action in Iraq.
"This whole idea that the U.S. should play the global policeman is not only ineffective but counterproductive. We are very far away from Iraq; we're not one of the neighbors. It should be dealt with by neighbors and the U.N.," Benjamin told HuffPost. "And the U.S. has been seen for the last 12 years as being way too involved in the Middle East and making a mess of things. I mean, Iraq is an absolute disaster in large degree because of the U.S. invasion."
Benjamin agreed that the United States should provide humanitarian aid to the thousands of Yazidis still trapped in northern Iraq. But she suggested that America had helped create the crisis by supporting embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose government is accused of neglecting and disenfranchising Iraqi Sunnis. The Islamic State is Sunni-backed.
According to Benjamin, the U.S. should have used its previous connections to Sunni chiefs to negotiate with the Islamic State over safe passage for the Yazidis.
"I think a lot has been done for the Yazidis," Benjamin said. "I mean, many of them have been able to escape. And I think getting them humanitarian aid, getting them food, getting them water, creating a safe corridor ... should be a U.N. multilateral effort, not a U.S.-led effort," she said.
Other progressive groups have also expressed concern about the United States' renewed military action in Iraq.
"News that the United States has once again used military force in Iraq, by launching airstrikes, is deeply disturbing -- the risks of mission creep, unintended consequences, and incremental escalation are real and dangerous. After a decade of conflict, the U.S. cannot afford another Iraq war, and U.S. military force is not the solution," Anna Gallad, executive director of MoveOn.org, said in a statement on Friday.
But for the most part, Democratic lawmakers have supported the recent airstrikes in Iraq, while also cautioning against broader involvement.
"I oppose open-ended military commitments, which the president's actions in Iraq could become," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said on Friday. "I am deeply concerned that these actions could lead to prolonged direct military involvement, which I would strongly oppose."
Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that escalating the conflict was "not in the cards."
"Neither the American people nor Congress are in the business of wanting to escalate this conflict beyond where it is today," he said. "I think the president has made it clear this is a limited strike. He has, I believe, most congressional support for that at this moment. To go beyond is really a challenge."
08/16/2014 6:17 PM EDT
US Military: Fighters, Drone Aircraft Strike Militants In N Iraq
BREAKING: US military: Fighters, drone aircraft strike militants near Irbil and Mosul Dam in Iraq— The Associated Press (@AP) August 16, 2014
08/16/2014 6:07 PM EDT
Kurdish Officials Say 300 Killed In Friday 'Massacre'
Correspondent for Britain's The Sunday Times Hala Jaber reports that Kurdish and Yazidi officials say the death toll from the Islamic State's attack on the Iraq village of Kocho on Friday is higher than previously estimated. A Kurdish official initially said around 80 people lost their lives.
.4/ 1000 women were taken as prisoners by #IS split into 2 groups. The "pretty incl gilrs aged btwn 10-11 and the others.— Hala Jaber (@HalaJaber) August 16, 2014
08/16/2014 5:57 PM EDT
British PM: Islamic State Militants Could Target UK
Islamic State militants in Iraq could grow strong enough to target the UK unless action is taken - PM David Cameron http://t.co/k2i5CjTm2S— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) August 16, 2014
08/16/2014 4:49 PM EDT
NYT Correspondent Recounts Iraq Helicopter Crash
New York Times correspondent Alissa J. Rubin tells her story inside the Iraqi helicopter that crashed on the Sinjar mountains on Tuesday while attempting to rescue stranded Yazidis.
Rubin was wounded in the crash and dictated the article from her hospital bed in Istanbul, the newspaper notes.
Read her moving account on The New York Times here.
08/16/2014 2:23 PM EDT
Iraq Refugees Learn Of Yazidi Massacre
The BBC's Yalda Hakim reports from a refugee camp in Dohuk on how the Yazidi community learned of an alleged massacre by Islamic State militants in Iraq.
Watch the BBC report here.
08/16/2014 1:03 PM EDT
U.S. Provides Air Support To Kurdish Offensive
Kurdish forces, supported by U.S. warplanes, are battling to recaptured Iraq's largest dam from Islamic State militants, Agence France Presse reports.
More from AFP:
Kurdish forces attacked the Islamic State fighters who wrested the Mosul dam from them a week earlier, a general told AFP.
"Kurdish peshmerga, with US air support, have seized control of the eastern side of the dam" complex, Major General Abdelrahman Korini told AFP, saying several jihadists had been killed.
08/16/2014 12:54 PM EDT
The Kurdish Iraqi leader has appealed to Germany for weapons to battle the advancing Islamic State, Reuters reports.
Germany has shied away from direct involvement in military conflicts for much of the post-war era and a survey conducted for Bild am Sonntag newspaper indicated that almost three quarters of Germans were against shipping weapons to the Kurds.
But Germany's defense minister has said the government was looking into the possibility of delivering military hardware.
Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, said the Kurds needed more than the humanitarian aid that Germany began sending on Friday to support people forced to flee their homes by the Sunni militant group's advance.
"We also expect Germany to deliver weapons and ammunition to our army so that we can fight back against the IS terrorists," Barzani told German magazine Focus. He said they needed German training and what they lacked most were anti-tank weapons.
08/16/2014 11:38 AM EDT
U.S.-Backed Kurds Attempt To Recapture Mosul Dam
#BREAKING: US-backed Kurds in bid to retake Iraq's largest dam: general— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) August 16, 2014
08/16/2014 11:14 AM EDT
Airstrikes Target Islamic State After Reports Of Yazidi Massacre
Airstrikes pounded the area around Iraq's largest dam on Saturday in an effort to drive out militants who captured it earlier this month, as reports emerged of the massacre of some 80 members of the Yazidi religious minority by Islamic extremists.
Residents living near the Mosul Dam told The Associated Press that the area was being targeted by airstrikes, but it was not immediately clear whether the attacks were being carried out by Iraq's air force or the U.S., which last week launched an air campaign aimed at halting the advance of the Islamic State group across the country's north.
The extremist group seized the dam on the Tigris River on Aug. 7. Residents near the dam say the airstrikes killed militants, but that could not immediately be confirmed. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity out of fears for their safety.
08/15/2014 6:31 PM EDT
U.S. May Speed Up Aid To Iraq Despite Billions Already Spent
The United States may accelerate economic and military aid to Iraq now Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has stood down, Reuters reports.
U.S. officials first want assurances that the Iraqi government has moved away from the sectarian policies of al-Maliki's administration, according to the news agency.
Read the full story here.