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Thousands March Against U.S. Presence in Iraq

September 29, 2003|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

Several thousand antiwar protesters marched in the streets of Hollywood on Sunday to demand an end to the U.S. military presence in Iraq, shouting "I told you so!" to a Bush administration they contend is struggling to bring peace and stability to that country.

A number of protesters, like 56-year-old Nancy Kent, called Iraq a "quagmire" -- a reference to the term her generation used to describe U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

"People keep bringing up that word more and more these days," said Kent, a veteran of anti-Vietnam protests. "They need to figure out our exit strategy ... and they need to turn this over to a U.N. action." Participants like Kent said the continuing reports of American casualties in Iraq have helped the antiwar movement sustain its momentum. Organizers estimated Sunday's crowd at 5,000, while the Los Angeles Police Department said it was about 2,500 to 3,000.

Roughly the same number of protesters turned out at a similar rally in April. At that time, Saddam Hussein's Baathist party had just fled Baghdad, and organizers focused their attention on the possibility of future military confrontations with countries such as North Korea and Iran.

Sunday's protesters touched on those themes, as well, but the dominant theme was the cost and duration of the military presence in Iraq. At one point, a group of parents of deployed troops -- most of them Latino -- jammed onto a stage on Hollywood Boulevard under a sign in Spanish reading, "End the war! Bring them home now!"

Fernando Suarez del Solar, the father of a soldier killed in Iraq, held aloft a photo of his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Jesus Suarez del Solar, calling him "a soldier for peace, not for petroleum." The 45-year-old father said he loved the United States, but was no fan of President Bush. "Bush is not the owner of the lives of these children," he said. "We are the owners."

Participants likened Bush to a Nazi, a war criminal, Pinocchio and the anti-Christ. One group of women carried a laundry line hung with pink ladies' undergarments -- "pink slips" -- stenciled with the names of administration officials. They later unfurled a 30-foot-long pink slip meant for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "You're dishonorably discharged," it read.

Protesters had a number of other concerns, from the Patriot Act to unemployment in the Philippines. Some pushed the presidential campaigns of war critics such as Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.

Sonali Kolhatkar, host of the radio show "Uprising" on KPFK-FM (90.7), called for an end to U.S. military occupation "in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine -- and everywhere." Judging from the T-shirts and banners, support for the Palestinians seemed to be the second-most popular cause of the day. Members of International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), which sponsored the event, sold pro-Palestinian shirts stating, "I will live as a guerrilla, I will go on as a guerrilla." Elizabeth Baker, a coalition member, said the shirts didn't necessarily promote violence, but "a guerrilla heart and mind."

"We support the right of people's self-determination," she said. "That's the bottom line."

Many protesters said they were concerned that the $87 billion the Bush administration is seeking in additional funding from Congress to reconstruct Iraq and Afghanistan would enrich American corporations that have already been granted reconstruction contracts.

Santa Monica resident George Williams, 62, said, "The money isn't going to go to Iraq ... [it's] going to go into the pockets" of large corporations.

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