Protests mark Iraq anniversary

Updated: 2008-03-20 06:38

WASHINGTON - Police arrested more than a dozen people who crossed a barricade and blocked entrances at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building here yesterday, at the start of a day of protests marking the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.

Iraq War demonstrators gather outside the American Petroleum Institute in downtown Washington, Wednesday, March 19, 2008, as protesters marked the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq. [Agencies]

A crowd of more than 100 gathered outside the IRS headquarters, chanting, "This is a crime scene" and, "You're arresting the wrong people."

A marching band led protesters down the street near the National Mall and around the IRS building before dozens of demonstrators gathered at the entrance.

The demonstrators said they were focusing on the IRS because it gathers the taxes used to fund the war.

Anti-war protests and vigils were planned throughout the day around the United States.

In Ohio, more than 20 different vigils, rallies, marches and other events were planned.

At the American Petroleum Institute in downtown Washington, dozens of protesters held signs reading "Out of Iraq" and "No war, no warming," and chanted "No blood for oil!"

Craig Etchison, 62, a retired college professor and Vietnam veteran, said he has been protesting the war for years.

"I've watched with horror as Bush has lied about this war," he said in front of the building. "I'm appalled at the number of civilians we've killed, just as we did in Vietnam."

College students from the states New Jersey to North Dakota have planned walkouts, while students at the University of Minnesota vowed to shut down military recruiting offices on campus.

A protester wearing a mask marches in front of the White House to protest the war in Iraq in Washington, DC. US President George W. Bush on Wednesday defended the launch of the war against Iraq five years ago, vowing no retreat as he promised US forces would triumph over Iraqi insurgents. [Agencies]

"This is the first time coordinated direct actions of civil disobedience have happened," Barbra Bearden, communications manager for the group Peace Action, said.

"People who have never done this kind of action are stepping up and deciding now is the time to do it."

But President George W. Bush strongly signaled yesterday that he will not order US troop withdrawals beyond those already planned because he refuses to "jeopardize the hard-fought gains" of the past year.

The president spoke at the Defense Department to mark the anniversary. He gave a strong defense of his decision to go to war and continue it and linked the fighting there to the global battle against al-Qaida.

"The battle in Iraq is noble, it is necessary, and it is just. And with your courage, the battle in Iraq will end in victory," he told an audience of Pentagon leaders, soldiers and diplomats.

Bush made some of his most expansive claims of success in the fighting there.

He said the increase of 30,000 troops he ordered to Iraq last year has turned "the situation in Iraq around."

He also said, "Iraq has become the place where Arabs joined with Americans to drive al-Qaida out."

"The surge ... has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror," the president said.

"We are witnessing the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden, his grim ideology, and his terror network. And the significance of this development cannot be overstated."

The US has about 158,000 troops in Iraq. The number is expected to drop to 140,000 by the middle of the year in withdrawals meant to erase all but about 8,000 troops from last year's increase.

Faster and larger withdrawals could unravel recent progress, Bush said.

"Having come so far and achieved so much, we are not going to let this happen," he said.

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