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War Protesters Call for Return of U.S. Troops

Thousands converging on Washington also express opposition to Bush's $87-billion request to rebuild Iraq and criticize Congress.

October 26, 2003|Janet Hook and Ken Silverstein | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Thousands of antiwar demonstrators descended on Washington Saturday to protest U.S. policy in Iraq, demanding that President Bush immediately withdraw all American troops and end the occupation of the war-torn country.

Carrying signs with messages such as "Money for Jobs Not War," and "Bush Lied, 1000s Died," protesters also called on Congress to reject the $87 billion Bush requested to finance military operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Don't give Bush $87 billion," said Al Sharpton, a Democratic presidential candidate, who addressed the crowd assembled at the Washington Monument under clear, crisp autumn skies. "Don't give him 87 cents. Give our troops a ride home."

Susan Shuman, spokeswoman for Military Families Speak Out, said of U.S. troops in Iraq: "Don't extend them. Don't redeploy them. Don't replace them. Bring them home now."

Organizers said that 100,000 people were present at the protest's peak. But police at the scene said they thought the numbers were far lower.

The turnout appeared lower than the crowds that showed up for demonstrations in October and January, before the war in Iraq began.

The protest came as the Bush administration works to build support for its policy in Iraq and seeks financial support for the country's reconstruction from Congress and the international community.

Congress is expected to vote in the coming weeks to provide most of the $87 billion Bush has requested, although the White House has had to lobby harder to get lawmakers to include the full $20 billion it wanted for reconstruction than for the $67 billion for military operations.

At an international conference in Madrid late last week, the U.S. won commitments from other nations of at least $13 billion over five years in economic aid to Iraq.

Although that was more than some U.S. officials expected, the amount -- combined with the money Congress is expected to provide -- falls short of the $56 billion the World Bank and United Nations have said is needed over four years to get Iraq back on its feet.

Still, Bush -- who was spending the weekend at his Camp David retreat -- hailed the developments in Madrid in his Saturday radio address.

"This growing financial support will allow us to build on the success of the broad military coalition already serving in Iraq," Bush said. But he cautioned, "there is still difficult work ahead, because freedom has enemies in Iraq."

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), in the Democrats' radio response, said the shortfall in international contributions in Madrid showed the U.S. would have to "shoulder more than our share of the risks to our troops and the costs of the war and its aftermath."

While antiwar protesters were calling for withdrawal of U.S. troops, polls show that a majority of Americans still support a U.S. military presence in Iraq, though in dwindling numbers.

An October survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 58% of those surveyed wanted to keep U.S. troops in Iraq. But that number was down from 64% a month earlier.

Saturday's protest was organized by two antiwar groups -- Act Now to Stop War and End Racism and United for Peace and Justice.

Organizers said the rally drew participants from 140 cities around the country.

They said companion protests were held in 40 cities around the world, including San Francisco.

In the capital, the protest drew a crowd diverse in age, race and social class, but participants shared an antipathy toward Bush, and many argued that he had misled the public about the rationale for going to war.

"I'm upset with the lies and deceit during the buildup to war," said Alan Bennett, an unemployed computer programmer from northern Virginia. "I had an open mind before the war. They seemed to have it all documented."

Susan Boyan, a Connecticut lawyer, drove with two friends to Washington to protest a war she has opposed from the outset. "I was opposed to going to war, and I am opposed to us staying in a country where we are not wanted," she said.

Although most of the criticism from the podium was addressed to Bush and his administration, speakers also had harsh words for Congress and members of the Democratic Party who supported the war against Iraq.

"All you Democrats with a big D -- don't you come at us in Republican clothing," said Damu Smith, spokesman for Black Voices for Peace. "We're not voting for you either."

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founder of Partnership for Civil Justice, denounced "those cowards in Congress who have rubber-stamped everything this administration has done."

Many Democrats who are critical of Bush's Iraq policies are expected to join in approving the $87 billion because they are loath to deny needed money to U.S. troops.

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