- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The throng of war protesters swelled Saturday as they marched across the Memorial Bridge into Virginia, by the Pentagon and to the offices of defense contractors to mark the sixth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

With police in riot gear standing by, hundreds of demonstrators were met by a small group of counter-protesters as they crossed the Memorial Bridge. War supporters held a large banner that read, “Go to hell traitors, you dishonor our dead on hallowed ground.”

Organizers from the ANSWER Coalition said more than 1,000 groups sponsored the protest to call for an end to the Iraq war. Carrying cardboard coffins and signs saying “We need jobs and schools, not war” and “Stop the war!” demonstrators beat drums and played trumpets as they marched.

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 wounded or killed.

“We think it’s especially important for this new administration to feel the pressure from people that we don’t want more war,” said Obama supporter Pat Halle, 59, of Baltimore.

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.

“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, N.C., who said he 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 summer 2010. He promises to pull the last of the U.S. troops by the end of 2011, which is in accord with a deal Iraqis signed with Bush.

There were about 138,000 troops in Iraq as of March 13.

Meanwhile, in California, hundreds of protesters gathered in Hollywood. Among them were peace advocate Cindy Sheehan _ whose son was killed in Iraq _ Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis and Ron Kovic, a paralyzed Vietnam veteran whose story was chronicled in the book and film “Born on the Fourth of July.”

Protesters in Los Angeles were expected to follow a rally with a march and then a symbolic “die in” where they would lie down in a major Hollywood Boulevard intersection to symbolize the soldiers who have died in the war.

Protesters waved signs and sold bumper stickers and T-shirts commemorating the event.

Denise Clendenning, 51, an environmental scientist from Chino Hills, Calif., said she hopes Obama will rethink his strategy to withdraw most of the troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and call all of them back instead.

“We all have a lot of confidence in him,” she said, holding two signs that read “Out of Iraq” and “End the War.”

Donna Moreno, 32, a medical worker from Gardena, Calif., said she was representing her Vietnam veteran father at the rally.

“I know Obama is making the effort. I have hope,” she said, wearing an Obama shirt and several buttons. “But I’m here to protest the war and job situation.”

This year, the protest in Washington 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.


Associated Press Writer Christina Hoag in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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