ARLINGTON, Virginia (Reuters) - Thousands of anti-war demonstrators, some carrying yellow and black signs reading “U.S. out of Iraq now!” marched on the Pentagon on Saturday, one of several protests worldwide to mark four years of war.
The march, on a cold, cloudy and windy St. Patrick’s Day, comes just before the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war on Tuesday and 40 years after a similar protest at the Pentagon over the Vietnam War.
On a stage in the Pentagon parking lot, speaker after speaker demanded the end of the war in Iraq and some called for President George W. Bush’s impeachment. A flag-draped coffin was displayed near the stage bearing a picture of a young soldier killed in Iraq.
“We’re here in the shadow of the war machine,” peace activist Cindy Sheehan said. “We need to shut it down.”
Wearing a black ski cap, Sheehan said soldiers like her son, Casey, who was killed in Iraq, were being sent “to die for nothing.”
A woman for the group that organized the protest told the cheering crowd, “Impeach Bush, impeach Cheney, impeach Gates.” The latter references were to Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Jonathan Hutto, a 29-year-old active-duty sailor who served in Iraq, urged the demonstrators to tell lawmakers “to get a backbone and spine” and stop the war.
The march began near the Vietnam War Memorial, just a few blocks from the White House, and proceeded across the Potomac River toward the Pentagon.
A smaller group of war supporters held a counter-demonstration with signs that said: “Win the war or lose to jihad,” “Our troops are shedding their blood to keep terrorists from America,” and “St. Patrick: Drive the Democrats from our land.”
One of the supporters, Vietnam War veteran David Warne, 57, said, “What you need to have is the military fight a war, not a bunch of politicians,” referring to efforts by Democrats in Congress to limit the war.
In the anti-war protest, one sign near the front read, “The worst tyrants ever: Napoleon, Hitler and Bush.” Others read, “Jail to the chief” and “Impeach Bush for war crimes.” Many protesters chanted “Troops out now.”‘
Frustration over the Iraq war cost Bush’s Republicans control of Congress in elections last year and is the main reason his poll numbers are stuck near 30 percent, the lowest of his presidency.
Bush also faces other problems, including complaints of poor health care for U.S. veterans, the perjury conviction of a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and an uproar over the firing of U.S. prosecutors that has prompted calls for the ouster of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Bush announced in January he was sending 21,500 additional troops to Iraq, further stoking anger over the war. The number of extra troops being sent has climbed to around 30,000 with the addition of support troops. His plan aims to quell violence in Baghdad and the western province of Anbar.
The march marked the latest protest in Washington against the war in which more than 3,200 U.S. troops have died.
Police in Los Angeles said 5,000 to 6,000 protesters turned out for an anti-war rally there. In downtown Hollywood, many protesters carried signs in Spanish and there were at least 12 fake coffins covered with the American flag.
One sign read “Iraq is Bush’s Vietnam” and another read, “Bush lies, soldiers die.” People chanted “Bring the troops home now” and “No more war.”
Other demonstrations were planned for Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Seattle. Protests were also staged or planned in Australia, Britain, and Canada.
Democrats in Congress are wrestling with legislation to set deadlines on the U.S. military presence in Iraq. A proposal to be debated soon in the House of Representatives would tie approval of $124 billion in emergency war funds to a troop pullout by September 2008.
Warning that a U.S. withdrawal would worsen the violence in Iraq, Bush has labeled such proposals an attempt by lawmakers to “micromanage” the war and has threatened a veto.
“The consequences of imposing such an artificial timetable would be disastrous,” Bush said in his weekly radio address on Saturday.
Additional reporting by Nichola Groom in Los Angeles and James Vicini in Washington