Protesters mark 3rd anniversary of Iraq invasion

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Thousands of people around the world took to the streets in a "Global Day of Action" to mark the third anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq. The weekend rallies and demonstrations drew smaller crowds than earlier anti-war demonstrations, when millions gathered in 2003 and 2004. US President George W. Bush, with dwindling public support for the war, marked the occasion with a speech, outlining his commitment to democracy in the region.

In the U.S.A.

Anti War protest poster, Portland, Oregon, USA

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered this weekend across the United States to protest what they say is the continuing occupation of Iraq. Protestors called for accountability from the current administration. According to U.S. group, United for Peace and Justice, over 500 cities planned protests in all 50 U.S. states.

In Portland Oregon, about 10,000 anti-war protesters took almost an hour to pass through downtown streets on Sunday 19th March. Some carried signs reading: "Impeach the Evildoer." On Saturday, more than 7,000 people marched through downtown Chicago. About 200 people gathered Sunday at Chalmette National Cemetery to protest the military conflict overseas. They say the war had hurt the country's ability to help New Orleans recover from hurricane disaster. Around 20 demonstrators were arrested in Washington, DC. About 200 joined a march Sunday along New York's Fifth Avenue.

In Toronto, Canada some 1,000 protesters converged opposite the U.S. consulate. In Ottawa, dozens of demonstrators gathered two blocks from Parliament Hill and later at the National Gallery to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several hundred protesters marched through downtown Halifax. Protests in Montreal and Vancouver also attracted hundreds.

In Seoul, 1,000 people demonstrated - urging the South Korean government to bring their troops home. South Korea has 3,200 troops in northern Iraq - the largest contingent of foreign troops after the US and Britain. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, about 600 people protested peacefully - in contrast to the 2005 gathering when police fired on demonstrators with water cannons. In Tokyo, about 800 demonstrators took to the streets, after some 2000 protested the day earlier.

About 1,000 protesters gathered near New York's Times Square at a rally where speakers denounced the Bush administration and the continuing US troop presence in Iraq. The demonstrations were organised by many diverse groups.

Global Action

Portland, Oregon: 10,000 people protested against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, March 19, 2006

Many more thousands also gathered in cities around the globe, including in the Iraqi cities of Basra and Baghdad. In Rome tens of thousands took to the streets, with signs: "Stop the war in Iraq" and "No to the war for oil." Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a supporter of US President George W. Bush, sent nearly 3,000 Italian soldiers to Iraq despite the objections of a majority of Italians.

In London, police estimated a crowd of at least 15,000 showed up for the anti-war march. The city's Mayor Ken Livingstone made an appearance at the event in Trafalgar Square which peace groups had organised to demand the immediate withdrawal of 8,000 British troops, the second largest military contingent after the United States in Iraq.

A turnout of several thousand people was reported in Denmark, Greece, Spain and Turkey. In Athens, nearly 2,000 protesters marched to the US embassy, led by Palestinian immigrants who chanted anti-American slogans, "Get the imperialists out of Iraq and Afghanistan" and "Bush is terrorist Number One". Protests were also held outside US facilities at Souda military base on the island of Crete and in Greece's second city of Salonika.

Demonstrators in Istanbul, led by leftist and Islamist groups, called for the American troops to pull out of Iraq with banners saying "United States, go home". Communist party officials in Portugal organised an anti-war rally in Lisbon, claiming solidarity with "the fight of the Iraqi people". In Copenhagen, some 3,000 people marched in the streets, organisers and police said, with banners reading "Bring back the troops now". Demonstrators rallied outside the US embassy before marching on to the British embassy. Police said one person was arrested.

Peace activists staged a peaceful march in Geneva where one of the anti-war organisers said that "there is even less legitimacy to the American presence in Iraq today than there was three years ago". In Stockholm where a few hundred people braved the cold and falling hail to gather at an outdoor rally in the Swedish capital, the mother of a British soldier killed in Iraq took the stage, putting the blame on the US and British leaders. In Barcelona, Spain, 2,000 people - according to police - joined a march protesting the war.


Anti War rally. Perth, Western Australia
Anti War Protest in Sydney, Australia

In Australia actions drew around 1,000 people in both Sydney and Melbourne demonstrated, with smaller rallies in other cities. Reports in Perth indicate between 500 and 1000 people took part in a demonstration.

The government still has over 1,300 troops on duty in and around Iraq. In February, Prime minister John Howard announced an additional 450 ADF troops will be sent to Iraq, despite other countries withdrawing numbers. Mr Howard justified the reversal of policy as being in the "broader interests of democracy in the Middle East".

Australia's oppostion Defence Spokesman Robert McClelland said it's a "question of resources". For instance, we've spent $1.2 billion on the war in Iraq to date, and that's more than we spend each year on the entire Australian Federal Police budget," he said. "Australian people are very concerned that we're going to be sucked along into a civil war situation in Iraq."

"The truckloads of tortured, mutilated bodies, smashed infrastructure and cost of the Iraq war now approaching one trillion Australian dollars are outcomes of the Prime Minister's decision to back President Bush's invasion 3 years ago," Greens Leader Bob Brown said.

A Hawker Britton opinion poll suggests that almost two thirds of Australians want ADF troops to leave Iraq within the next couple months. Last week, visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was heckled by campaigners in Sydney, who accused her of "war crimes" and having "blood on her hands".

US President maintains "reason for hope"

President George W. Bush addresses his remarks on the global war on terror Cleveland, Ohio, Monday, March 20, 2006. White House by Paul Morse

President Bush marked the third anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom with a speech given in Cleveland, Ohio. Elaborating on the effort to build democracy in Iraq Mr Bush said, "We are implementing a strategy that will lead to victory... the United States will not abandon Iraq," he said. "Americans have never retreated in the face of thugs and assassins, and we will not begin now."

According to Bloomberg, President Bush is giving a series of speeches aimed at "rallying Americans behind his policies." The U.S. has 133,000 troops in Iraq. U.S. military deaths in Iraq have surpassed 2,300. Public support for the war is falling and the cost of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan rising to $9.8 billion a month.

The President told the audience: "in the face of continued reports about killings and reprisals" he could "understand how some Americans have had their confidence shaken," he said. "Others look at the violence they see each night on their television screens, and they wonder how I can remain so optimistic about the prospects of success in Iraq. They wonder what I see that they don't." He alluded to the northern Iraqi city, Tal Afar. He said the city "was once a key base of operations for al Qaeda and is today a free city that gives reason for hope for a free Iraq."

Much of downtown Cleveland where Mr Bush spoke was barricaded off by Police. About 100 anti-war protesters chanted for the president to leave. The group held signs with peace messages and beat drums.

Four polls published last week put Bush's approval ratings at an all-time low - somewhere between 33 and 36 per cent. A CNN/Gallup poll has his approval rating at 36 per cent. The Pew Centre's poll put approval at 33 - the lowest rating of his presidency.

U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote in the Washington Post on Monday, arguing the Iraqi insurgency was failing. He wrote: "Turning our backs on post-war Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing post-war Germany back to the Nazis." Vice President Dick Cheney also "remains optimistic about the outcome of the US involvement."

Iraq Conflict continues

Three years on, with 2,300 Americans killed, 17,000 troops injured, somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000 Iraqis killed and the onset of "civil war," the US occupation of Iraq costs $200 million each day.

Meanwhile the conflict continues in Iraq. On Tuesday around 100 Iraqi insurgent fighters, armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, stormed a jail near Baghdad, killing at least 17 policemen. Authorities said all 33 prisoners were freed and 10 attackers were killed. After burning the police station, the group detonated roadside bombs as they fled. At least 13 policemen and civilians and 15 gunmen were wounded in the attack.

A recent wave of violence has left more than 1,000 Iraqis dead since the bombing last month of a Shiite Muslim shrine.