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Thousands protest Iraq war on 3rd anniversary

Thousands of anti-war protesters took to the streets around the world Saturday, marking the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq with demands that coalition troops leave immediately.
Thousands protest against US-led invasion into Iraq in Madrid
Thousands of anti-war demonstrators protest on Sunday, the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, in central Madrid, Spain. Andrea Comas / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

The third anniversary of the U.S.-led war in Iraq drew tens of thousands of protesters around the globe, from hurricane-ravaged Louisiana to Australia, with chants of “Stop the War” and calls for the withdrawal of troops. President Bush used the occasion to call for Americans to consider the sacrifices of men and women in uniform.

About 200 war veterans, hurricane survivors and demonstrators gathered Sunday at the Chalmette National Cemetery to protest how the military conflict overseas had hurt the country’s ability to help the Gulf Coast recover from last year’s hurricanes.

“We attacked a country who never did anything to us,” said Philadelphia resident Al Zappala, whose 30-year-old son was killed in Iraq in April 2004.

He said his son joined the National Guard to help his community. “He was sent to Iraq based on lies,” Zappala said.

In New Orleans, veterans and war protesters marched past gutted houses and piles of rotting wood and debris Sunday, saying the slow pace of rebuilding the hurricane-ravaged city shows the price the country is paying for continuing to wage war in Iraq.

“A lot of people don’t have a grasp of what this war is costing us,” Vern Hall, a Vietnam War veteran from Minnesota, said as he walked shuttered buildings with broken glass and precariously hanging metal.

“Here’s the actual cost of this,” he said, looking around. “Things are not getting done.”

Bush notes ‘time to reflect’
But Bush, speaking at the White House on Sunday, said the anniversary was “a time to reflect on the sacrifices of the men and women who wear the uniform.

Bush said he was encouraged by the progress toward forming a unity government in Iraq and asked Americans to remember the sacrifice of troops on the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion.

“I encourage the Iraqi leaders to continue to work hard to get this government up and running,” Bush said from the South Lawn of the White House after returning from a weekend at Camp David. “I’m encouraged by the progress.”

Bush said he spoke by phone earlier in the day with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and had received a positive report.

Bush said many Americans “volunteered after 9/11, knowing full well that their time in the military could put them in harm’s way. All Americans should offer

“On this third anniversary of the beginning of the liberation of Iraq I think all Americans should offer thanks to the men and women who wear the uniform and their families who support them,” Bush said.

“We are implementing a strategy that will lead to victory in Iraq. And a victory in Iraq will make this country more secure and will help lay the foundation of peace for generations to come,” he said.

Crowds smaller but exuberant
Many of the weekend demonstrations across Australia, Asia and Europe drew smaller-than-anticipated crowds — far short of the millions worldwide who protested the initial invasion in March 2003 and the first anniversary in 2004.

Only about 200 joined a march Sunday down New York’s Fifth Avenue, with signs including: “We the People Need to do More to End the War.” Saturday’s rally drew more than 1,000 people.

Anti-war rallies in Japan drew about 800 protesters chanting “No war! Stop the war!” and banging drums as they marched peacefully through downtown Tokyo toward the U.S. Embassy. A day earlier, about 2,000 rallied in the city.

“The Iraq war was President Bush’s big mistake and the whole world is against him,” said organizer Ayako Nishimura. “Iraq must decide its own affairs.”

Protesters also gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia, and at least 1,000 people turned out in Seoul, South Korea, which has the third-largest contingent of foreign troops in Iraq after the U.S. and Britain.

Voices in Times Square ... In Times Square on Saturday, anti-war protesters rallied outside a military recruiting station, demanding that troops be withdrawn from Iraq. In London, 15,000 people poured into Trafalgar Square. In Stockholm, a protester dressed as the hooded figure from a photo taken at Abu Ghraib prison.

Anti-war scenes were repeated across the United States and the world as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to mark the anniversary.

Wael Musfar of the Arab Muslim American Federation addressed more than 1,000 people who gathered in Times Square. “We say enough hypocrisy, enough lies! Our soldiers must come home now,” Musfar said from a parked flatbed truck.

Participants chanted, “Stop the U.S. war machine, from Iraq to Korea to the Philippines!”

Many attendees emphasized that they support the troops. “I have friends in Iraq and I just want them to know that I may not be able to support them there, but I can here,” said Jose Avila, 36.

... London and Chicago “We are against this war, both for religious reasons and on a humanitarian basis, too,” said Imran Saghir, 25, a Muslim student who attended the London rally.

Britain, the United States’ strongest supporter in the Iraq war, has about 8,000 troops in Iraq but plans to pull out 800 of them by May. The British military has reported 103 deaths there. More than 2,300 American troops have died in the war.

Protesters in Chicago marched down Michigan Avenue to a Saturday night rally at downtown’s Daley Plaza. Police estimated that more than 7,000 people took part, but said there were no arrests.

‘Tapestry of resistance’
“I’m against this war, I’m against the torture,” said protester Martha Conrad, 54, of Chicago. “We’re doing this for the people of Iraq.”

One bystander, with a red, white and black Iraqi flag flung across his shoulders, said he came to show he backed Bush’s policies in Iraq. “I support freeing Iraqis from tyranny,” said 33-year-old Ryan Stiles of Chicago.

In Washington, a protester wearing a Bush mask and bearing fake blood on his hands waved to passing automobiles outside Vice President Dick Cheney’s residence, where about 200 people demonstrated against the war.

Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ said the rallies nationwide are a “tapestry of resistance.”

“Most people believe we aren’t crazy anymore,” he said.

‘Sense of betrayal’
In Concord, N.H., nearly 300 peace activists marched about a mile from a National Guard armory to the Statehouse.

“I feel a huge sense of betrayal that I went and risked my life for a lie,” said Joseph Turcott, 26, a former Marine who served in the invasion.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld answered critics of the war in a guest column in Sunday’s editions of The Washington Post, asserting that if Americans were to turn away from Iraq, it would be “the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis.”

“It would be as great a disgrace as if we had asked the liberated nations of Eastern Europe to return to Soviet domination because it was too hard or too tough or we didn’t have the patience to work with them as they built free countries,” he wrote.

Rumsfeld cited rising voter participation in successive Iraqi elections, support for security forces shown by Sunni religious leaders once sympathetic to the insurgency, and rising competence of Iraqi troops as evidence of progress since the invasion three years ago.

“The terrorists seem to recognize that they are losing in Iraq,” he said.

In demonstrations in several cities worldwide, protesters carried posters showing pictures of Bush, calling him the “World’s No. 1 terrorist.”

International demonstrations
In Turkey, where opposition to the war cuts across all political stripes, about 3,000 protesters gathered in Istanbul, police said. “Murderer USA,” read a sign in Taksim Square.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, more than 2,000 demonstrators marched from the U.S. Embassy to the British Embassy, demanding the withdrawal of 530 Danish troops from southern Iraq.

Two demonstrators take part in a rally against the war in Irak, 18 March 2006 in Athens. The rally was organized by Greek trade unions and left-wing groups to mark the third anniversary of the beginning of the war in Irak in March 2003. AFP PHOTO/stringer (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)AFP

Britain’s defense chief earlier urged demonstrators in London to support the Iraqi people and condemn terrorism.

“When people go on the streets of London today, I do wish just occasionally they would go out in support of the United Nations, the Iraqi people and the Iraqi democrats and condemn terrorists,” Defense Secretary John Reid told British Broadcasting Corp. radio during a visit to Iraq.

Members of the Stop the War Coalition, the organizers of the London march, had little sympathy for Reed’s remarks. “Every day you hear of new deaths. Tony Blair has actually made Iraq a worse place for the Iraqi people,” said Rose Gentle, whose soldier son Gordon, 19, was killed by a roadside bomb last year in Basra, southern Iraq.