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'Inspections, Not War': 2,500 Rally in Washington

September 30, 2002|RANDY TRICK, ARIANNE ARYANPUR and EDDY RAMIREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Claiming that President Bush is more interested in grabbing Saddam Hussein's oil resources than his weapons of mass destruction, several thousand demonstrators marched through the nation's capital Sunday to protest a potential attack on Iraq.

"The message is: No war in Iraq. We need inspections, not war; disarmament, not overthrow of the Iraqi regime," said Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington public-policy group.

A strike against Iraq "will bring on more terrorism, the deaths of who knows how many Americans and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens," said Al Fischman, 74, a retiree from Michigan.

"It will accomplish absolutely nothing."

The protest came as U.S. lawmakers continued their debate over how much latitude to give Bush in pursuing military action against Iraq, and as U.N. weapon inspectors prepared to meet with Iraqi officials today to lay down demands for their return.

The march, which was peaceful, took demonstrators up Washington's Embassy Row. It paused briefly at the embassies of countries on the U.N. Security Council, a symbolic plea for them to guide the United States away from war, and ended with a rally outside the residence of Vice President Dick Cheney.

"No blood for oil," the protesters yelled. "One, two, three, four, we don't want your oil war."

Police estimated that about 2,500 people participated.

The protest marked the third day of demonstrations in Washington against U.S. foreign policy, coinciding with annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Protesters blame the two international finance agencies for setting out loan terms for indigent nations that harm the poor and the environment.

Authorities had prepared for as many as 20,000 protesters over the weekend, but far fewer appeared.

On Sunday, the protesters included church groups, suburban families and college students--a more diverse crowd than had appeared at rowdier demonstrations on Friday and Saturday.

Those had been dominated by college-age protesters.

"Ordinary folks are opposing the war, not just the rabble-rousing kids," said Dave Bort, a 51-year-old electrical engineer from Maryland who wore a three-piece suit.

"There's a lot of strong opposition in the suburban neighborhoods to any more killing," said Mike Hanna, 38, an environmental engineer who turned out with fellow parishioners from his Roman Catholic church in Virginia. They included a lawyer, an occupational therapist and a college professor.

"There's been enough killing in the past year. Killing a bunch of Iraqis won't help anything."

Ryan Amundson of Hartville, Mo., said he was attending on behalf of 50 people who lost relatives in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "It's very upsetting to see Sept. 11 used to justify this war with Iraq," said Amundson, whose brother, Craig, 27, died at the Pentagon, where he was working as a multimedia illustrator for the Army.

"We know many innocent people will die in a war, and we think that will bring more insecurity than peace. We don't want anyone, anywhere, to have to go through what we went through."

Many of the protesters said they feared that Bush was using Iraq's suspected weapon programs as an excuse to gain control of Iraqi oil, or to avenge a suspected 1993 assassination plot against former President Bush, the current president's father.

They also said the president had made the world less secure by asserting, in a new foreign policy doctrine, that the United States may strike first against hostile states developing weapons of mass destruction.

"If we've been attacked, then we should defend ourselves," said Medea Benjamin of the group Global Exchange, which helped organize the protest.

"But we can't have a world run by preemptive strikes. That would indeed be a world of perpetual war."

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Times staff writer Aaron Zitner contributed to this report.

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