Ed Flaherty, president of Iowa Veterans for Peace, chapter 161, talks with Lori Nelson of PEACE Iowa on Sunday at the demonstration calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan.

Ed Flaherty, president of Iowa Veterans for Peace, chapter 161, talks with Lori Nelson of PEACE Iowa on Sunday at the demonstration calling for an end to the war in Afghanistan. / Tara Bannow / Iowa City Press-Citizen
By Tara Bannow
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Iowa City, October 7, 2012 — Much has changed in Afghanistan since the U.S. first launched its military operations there 11 years ago Sunday.

Free from Taliban rule, citizens can make more choices for themselves and schools and media outlets are free of Taliban propaganda. Even music, once banned in many settings, is played freely, said Mohib Zegham, an Afghanistan resident studying in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program.

But overall, he said, things are not better. There’s much more violence than before the U.S. occupation. It’s mostly peaceful in large cities, aside from periodic suicide bombings, but in the more rural southern and eastern portions of the country, people live in the midst of war every day, Zegham said.

On Sunday afternoon — the 11th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan — Zegham joined a group of about 50 people along Clinton Street at its intersection with Iowa Avenue in front of the Old Capitol for a peaceful demonstration against the war in Afghanistan.

“We are killing more civilians than are properly reported in our papers,” said 84-year-old Iowa City resident Elsie Gauley Vega, who wore several anti-war signs and held another on a post, “and we are destroying more of our military personnel than are properly reported. The ones who are killed outright may be the lucky ones. Some people have such humungous physical and mental head damages, they are never the same again.”

The group wrote a petition with more than 200 signatures that will be sent to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling on the U.N. to broker a ceasefire in Afghanistan.

“We ask the United Nations to call on all the parties in conflict, including competing warlords and the Taliban, the Karzai government, regional players and NATO, to lay down their weapons,” the petition stated.

Protest organizer Ed Flaherty, president of Iowa Veterans For Peace, Chapter 161, said the group chose the U.N. as the petition recipient because all the other parties involved — the U.S. government, the Taliban, Hamid Karzai’s government — clearly haven’t been able to broker peace in the country.

“There has to be someone who is above the day-to-day fray who can make a credible call for everybody who has an interest, including all of the bordering nations,” he said. “This is how peace gets done.”

At the event, participants read aloud the names of Iowa soldiers killed in Afghanistan as well as a small portion of the Afghan civilians that have been killed in the war.

The U.S. has spent $560 billion on the war in Afghanistan, a war that’s killed countless Afghan civilians, Flaherty said. Today, one in five Afghan children don’t live until the age of 5, he said.

“By any humanitarian measure, we have not succeeded in Afghanistan” Flaherty said.

Reach Tara Bannow at tbannow@press-citizen.com or 887-5418.