- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2008

Protests marking the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war yesterday included no Hollywood stars and drew only a fraction of the tens of thousands that typically come to the nation’s capital for war protests.

The collection of antiwar group members, whose numbers reached only about 1,000, instead chose to scatter across the city in small, renegade bands to block traffic and disrupt work at the Internal Revenue Service and companies that they called the “pillars of war.”

Organizers said the relatively small turnout was no indication that the antiwar movement has lost momentum.

“We’ve done the marches,” Frida Berrigan, 33, of the War Resisters League of New York City told The Washington Times. “But for the fifth anniversary we needed to something different.”

Miss Berrigan, 33, also said organizers did not want to hold the protest over a weekend, which typically brings bus loads of out-of-state marchers, because this weekend includes Easter Sunday and there was a gathering last weekend in Silver Spring of veterans against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Michael Franc, vice president for government relations at the Heritage Foundation in the District, said the low turnout reflects the issues defining the presidential campaigns, particularly how the war has become “second fiddle” to the economy and health care.

“What the candidates are saying and not saying is a market test on how the interest in the war has diminished,” he said.

Mr. Franc also said that the campaign messages and the press”s coverage of them reinforce each other and that the de-emphasis on the war “leads up to less participation in protests.

Though the war has been unpopular, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll in December showed that growing numbers of people think the U.S. is making progress and will eventually be able to claim some success in Iraq.

About 32 protesters were arrested in the morning when they tried to cross a barricade and block entrances at the IRS headquarters, said Ernestine Fobbs, a Federal Protective Service spokeswoman.

Brian Bickett, 29, was among the first arrested. The high school theater teacher from Brooklyn, N.Y., said he had never engaged in civil disobedience before.

“We need to find lots of different ways to resist the war, and I decided to try this,” he said.

About 100 protesters were led by a marching band and gathered at the main entrance of the building, in the 1100 block of Constitution Avenue Northwest. Some of them jumped a barricade and sat down in front of the doors and were immediately detained. A second group did the same thing at a side entrance.

The Metropolitan Police Department arrested one person for crossing a police line, spokeswoman Traci Hughes said.

A tense scene unfolded before noon when a band of protesters blocked off the intersection at 14th and K streets Northwest, near the American Petroleum Institute, forcing department officers in helmets to move protesters to sidewalks.

Some protesters chanted “No blood for oil.”

Among the other groups protesting were Code Pink, Veterans for Peace, Peace Action, and United for Peace and Justics.

Groups supporting the war were also present. A handful of people gathered at a nearby armed forces recruiting center.

“We’re out here to show support for our troops on the anniversary of the liberation of Iraq,” said Kristinn Taylor, 45, of the District.

Colby Dillard held a sign reading “We support our brave military and their just mission” and pointed to red paint that one of the protesters had splattered on the sidewalk.

“The same blood was spilled to give you the right to do what you’re doing,” Mr. Dillard, who served in Iraq in 2003, told the protesters.

Earlier in the day, about 150 people, mostly with the group Veterans for Peace, marched down Independence Avenue Northwest. Many of them carried upside-down American flags, which they said symbolized a nation in distress.

Police also tussled with protesters over the yellow tape they tried to string along the fence protecting the White House, after they held a waterboarding demonstration. Nobody was injured and no arrests were made.

Daniel Black, who was stationed in Fallujah with the Marines in 2004, said that after he returned, he came to believe the war was a mistake.

War protests on Washington have slowly dwindled since their height on Oct. 21, 1967. An estimated 50,000 people marched in front of the Defense Department’s headquarters and roughly 600 protesters were arrested.

In January 2007, tens of thousands, including actress and Vietnam-era protester Jane Fonda, came to the District for weekend protests. There were reports of only minor incidents and a handful of arrests.

Elaine Matthews of the Granny Peace Brigade said yesterday that of the main presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain, a Republican is the “worst” on Iraq and Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, is the best. However, Mrs. Matthews, 57, said Mr. Obama is still too “warlike,” despite his commitment to leave Iraq.

Similar protests were held yesterday throughout the country.

About 20 protesters were arrested at a rally in Syracuse, N.Y., for blocked traffic by creating a mock Baghdad street scene. Five were arrested In Hartford, Conn., for blocking the front door of a federal courthouse.

Hsin-Yin Lee and Matthew Cawvey contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.