WASHINGTON — Supporters of the war in Iraq, concerned that Saturday's antiwar demonstrations might hurt morale among U.S. troops, staged their own rally Sunday -- taking digs at critics of the Bush administration, including Cindy Sheehan, who last month staged a vigil outside the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
"Our sons are there to try and defeat these evil ideologues," said Robert Hemenway, whose son, Navy Chief Petty Officer Ronald Hemenway, died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. "If we don't stand up for this country, then who will?"
Otherwise, he told the crowd of about 1,000, "our sons have died in vain."
A large patchwork American flag made by children of soldiers from Ft. Benning, Ga., was the backdrop to a stage where speakers hailed U.S. efforts in Iraq and denounced those who were calling for President Bush to bring the troops home now.
"A lot of these people want to live here, but they don't want to defend where they're living," said John Horrigan, a former Army Ranger whose identical twin, Robert, died in combat in Iraq this year. "I think our forefathers are wondering what happened to the country they once knew."
Zia Groosh, a young Iraqi soldier visiting the United States, said the war was necessary and that progress had been made in Iraq since the war began. "I've been there before the war and I've been there during the war, and it's getting better every day," she said. "People who are demonstrating and saying, 'Pull the troops out of Iraq' haven't been there, so they can't judge."
Groosh cited the new Iraqi government, police force and army as signs of U.S. success.
"For the first time, women make up 25% of the government, and that's a huge step," she said.
Many speakers singled out Sheehan, the California mother of a soldier slain in Iraq whose protest in Texas drew attention to the antiwar movement.
They accused her of undermining U.S. morale at home and abroad.
"The group who spoke here the other day did not represent the American ideals of freedom, liberty and spreading that around the world," Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) told the crowd. "I frankly don't know what they represent, other than to blame America first."
Though organizers of Sunday's demonstration said they had hoped for as many as 20,000 people, they acknowledged that far fewer -- and nowhere near the numbers of Saturday's antiwar rally -- had come out.
"We're not trying to compete with them head to head," spokesman Mark Coyle said. "We're just trying to make sure the troops know that there are people back here on the home front who are 100% behind them."
A number of antiwar protesters shouted chants and held anti-Bush signs across the street, where police kept them. One protester generated a rap, rhyming words such as "hypocrisy" and "democracy."
But the rally in support of the war, which attracted many military families, drowned them out.
"Our voices of resolve must be heard," said Diane Ibbotson, whose son, Army Cpl. Forest Jostes, was killed in the same battle as Sheehan's son, Casey. "Our message is simple. We will win the war on terror."