BAGHDAD, Iraq – As heavy fighting continues in the Euphrates River city of Ramadi, with the U.S. military on Friday reporting the deaths of two more soldiers around the militant stronghold, anti-war activists today are hoping to stage the largest peace rally in Washington, D.C., since the Vietnam War.
Saturday’s “Bring the Troops Home Now” rally is the anti-war groups’ first opportunity to demonstrate the general dissatisfaction with the war reflected in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released this week that shows 63 percent of Americans support the immediate withdrawal of “some or all” of the U.S. troops in Iraq.
“It’s becoming clear to everyone that not only was this war based on a false pretext, it is not winnable,” said Brian Becker, national coordinator for the ANSWER Coalition, one of two umbrella groups organizing the rally. “The anti-war sentiment is now the majority.”
Supporters of the war in Iraq said they plan to line the march route as part of their “Support the Troops Weekend.”
“We need to be out there showing our troops there are plenty of Americans who care about them,” said William Green, president of RightMarch.com.
The latest military deaths occurred Thursday: one in a roadside bombing between Ramadi and nearby Fallujah, the other in a gunbattle in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad. Those killings raised to at least 1,912 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003.
The U.S. military declined to say if it was conducting a large offensive against Ramadi, but police and residents have reported heavy fighting there during the past week. Seven service members have died in or near the city since Sept. 1.
In Baghdad, a suicide bomber on a public minibus set off an explosives belt as the vehicle approached a busy terminal Friday, killing at least five people and wounding eight, police said.
Also in the Iraqi capital, gunmen killed a member of the commission charged with ensuring former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime are banned from the Iraqi government, police said. Thirteen commission members have been killed since it was created two years ago.
Ramadi police Capt. Nasir Al-Alousi said American forces airlifted equipment into the city stadium before dawn Friday. He said clashes erupted in that area and spread to an industrial zone after sunrise, continuing until at least midday.
Dr. Omar al-Rawi at Ramadi General Hospital said two people were killed and eight wounded in the fighting. Police Lt. Mohammed Tirbas Al-Obaidi said a roadside bomb destroyed an American armored vehicle, but it was impossible to say if there were casualties because U.S. forces blocked the area.
The deadliest day for U.S. forces in Ramadi this month was Monday, when four soldiers attached to the Marines died in two roadside bombings.
Militants have used Ramadi as a stronghold since the start of the insurgency two years ago. The city of about 300,000 is the capital of Anbar province, which fans out west from Baghdad to the Saudi, Jordanian and Syrian borders.
It includes much of the Sunni heartland, where residents lived a relatively privileged life under Saddam, a Sunni. Since Saddam’s ouster by the U.S.-led coalition, the insurgency has grown in strength. At one time or another, militants have controlled most of the major population centers along the Euphrates, which flows southwest through the province from the Syrian border toward Baghdad.
U.S. forces conducted a major offensive in the region in November to retake control of Fallujah, 30 miles east of Ramadi. American troops continue fighting skirmishes along the Euphrates, a major infiltration route for foreign fighters sneaking into the country from Syria to fight under the banner of al-Qaida in Iraq, the creation of Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi.
Peace activist Becker said organizers expect 100,000 at today’s protest. He said about 1,000 busloads from every state in the contiguous 48 – including eight buses from Chicago – will arrive in Washington for the weekend’s activities. Groups from Japan, Korea and the United Kingdom are also expected. Solidarity marches are planned in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“Our focus is sharp,” said Bill Dobbs, media coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, ANSWER’s co-sponsor. “We want to put the president and Congress on the hot seat.”
The rally is scheduled to begin on the Ellipse between the White House and the Washington Monument at 8:30 a.m. PDT. Speakers include “Peace Mom” Cindy Sheehan, who helped re-energize the peace movement with her rallies outside President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas; actress Jessica Lange; the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
A march is to start an hour later and will cross in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. It will be the first time since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 that a mass protest will be allowed to do so.
The “Support the Troops” rally begins at the Navy Memorial farther up Pennsylvania Avenue with other parents of soldiers killed in Iraq.
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