WASHINGTON — Hundreds of war protesters from across the U.S. gathered in Washington on Saturday to mark the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
Organizers from the ANSWER Coalition said more than 1,000 groups sponsored the protest to call for an end to the Iraq war. Holding signs that read “We need jobs and schools, not war” and “Stop the war!” they rallied around noon across the street from the Lincoln Memorial and by 1:30 p.m., were beginning to march across the Memorial Bridge to the Pentagon.
Protesters demanded that President Barack Obama immediately withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, saying thousands of Iraqis have died and thousands of American troops have been killed or wounded.
Protesters lined up about 100 cardboard coffins on the ground draped with flags, including the American flag, representing countries where the U.S. has taken military action.
Anti-war activists said even though former President George W. Bush is out of power, they are disappointed with what they see as stalled action from Obama. Several of them said they supported Obama during his campaign, but that his administration has let them down by not ending the war sooner.
“Obama seems to be led somewhat by the bureaucracies. I want him to follow up on his promise to end the war,” said 66-year-old Perry Parks of Rockingham, North Carolina, who served in the Army for nearly 30 years, including in Vietnam. “But the longer it goes, the more it seems like he’s stalling.”
Obama has said he plans to withdraw roughly 100,000 troops by the summer of 2010. He promises to pull the last of the U.S. troops by the end of 2011, which is in accord with a deal the Iraqi government signed with Bush.
A small group of veterans and parents of soldiers holding American flags gathered near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for a counter protest. Ron Kirby, of Alexandria, Virginia, was one of them.
“We’re for victory. When our president and Congress send our men and women to war, they send them there to win or else don’t send them at all,” said Kirby, a Vietnam veteran.
Kirby said he thought the anti-war protest was sending the wrong message. He added that he supported Obama’s plan for a gradual withdrawal of troops, because an immediate withdrawal would thwart efforts to restore freedom in Iraq, he said.
James Circello disagreed.
Circello of Washington served in the Army from March 2003 until April 2004, when he said he deserted before his unit was deployed to Afghanistan. Circello, 30, said he left because of what he called the destruction the U.S. caused in Iraq.
“I was forced to remove people from their homes,” he said. Circello turned himself in to authorities in 2007 and was administratively discharged, he said.
He said he participated in the Saturday protest to show his solidarity with the troops and the Iraqi people.
“We want to show the Iraqi people that we are not in line with the government, whether Bush or Obama, and we want immediate withdrawal of troops,” he said. “Just because a new popular president comes into power, it’s not going to stop us from demonstrating.”
The protesters also raised concerns about the continued troop presence in Afghanistan and called for an end to U.S. support of Israel’s military.
Taxpayer dollars should be used not for war but for domestic job-creation, health care, housing and education, demonstrators said.
This year, the protest was held on a weekend — a few days after the March 19 anniversary of the war, which began in 2003. Last year’s weekday protest was marked by lower turnout than in previous years.
Protests also were held in Los Angeles and San Francisco.