"No blood for oil. No war in Iran," protesters roared in unison as they marched from midtown Manhattan to the United Nations headquarters in New York Sunday.
"Not one more dollar, not one more death," they shouted, amid calls for Congress to stop funding the occupation and bring U.S. troops home before the end of this year.
Some demonstrators called President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney "war criminals" and voiced support for the idea that both be impeached.
Both houses of Congress are currently debating a withdrawal timeline. But many activists doubt that the Democratic Party leadership is serious about ending the occupation, or can muster the votes needed to overcome near-united Republican opposition.
Last week, the Senate voted 50-48 against a Democratic proposal to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq by Mar. 31, 2008. Democratic leaders sat they will add the resolution's language to a war funding appropriations bill that is expected to come before the Senate on Thursday.
However, Senator Hilary Clinton, currently the party's leading contender for the presidential nomination, now says that if elected, she would maintain a U.S. troop presence in Iraq indefinitely to protect "vital national security interests."
"This war is killing dozens of people nearly every day," said Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the anti-war umbrella group that organized the countrywide protests.
"When our communities desperately need federal funds for health care, affordable housing, education and environmental protection, why are the Democrats lining up the votes to drain the treasury to continue Bush's war?" she asked.
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, more than 3,200 U.S. troops have been killed and about 63,000 wounded. Figures vary widely for Iraqi casualties, but some conservative estimates put the death toll of the civilian population at more than 100,000.
A CNN poll released Monday shows that support for the war here has dropped 40 percentage points since the start of the invasion in 2003, while the number of U.S. citizens who say they strongly oppose the war has doubled.
In the House of Representatives, Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi is currently trying to round up the votes for a $124 billion supplemental appropriations bill, most of which, critics say, would be used to perpetuate the occupation of Iraq.
Activists oppose Pelosi's bill because it sets a withdrawal deadline of Aug. 31, 2008, just three months before the U.S. presidential election scheduled for November.
Many anti-war groups support an amendment proposed by California Congresswoman Barbara Lee that sets a target for withdrawal of Dec. 31 of this year.
"Fully-funded safe withdrawal within a year is not an extreme position," said Tim Carpenter, director of Progressive Democrats of America, whose group has been active in organising anti-war protests.
"It's the position of 60 percent of the American people," he added in a statement citing a recent USA Today newspaper poll. Carpenter said if Democratic leaders wanted to remain in office, they must fight "for ending rather than prolonging the occupation."
Nancy Lessin, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, whose group is part of the efforts to put pressure on Congress to end the war, called the Democratic Party leaders' ambiguous statements on Iraq policy "infuriating." She especially took issue with the argument that they are "supporting the troops."
"How in the world is Congress supporting the troops by continuing to send them to kill and die in an illegal, immoral, unwinnable quagmire?" she asked.
At the rally in New York, no prominent Democratic Party leaders showed up, although many have portrayed themselves as staunch critics of the Bush administration.
Organizers said they had invited a number of Democratic lawmakers to participate in the rally, but only New York Congressman Charles Rangel openly expressed his support in a letter, in which he explained that he had other prior engagements.
"It is sad that it has taken four years of the war and four years of deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis to get the Bush administration to consider rethinking our military policy abroad," he wrote.
"Yet with the help of warriors of conscience like UFPJ, we will hopefully bring the destructive waste of money and life to an end sooner than later," Rangel said.
Though doubtful about the possibility for an imminent and substantial change in Washington's Iraq policy, many demonstrators interviewed by IPS held that the anti-war movement was largely responsible for the Democrats' seizure of majority power in last year's Congressional elections.
"I am cautiously optimistic about the impact of the movement on Iraq policy," said Jerry Hassett of the group Veterans for Peace. "But if we keep the pressure on Democrats, they will listen."
"I think it will have an impact," agreed Ayca Cubucku, a doctoral student standing next to Hassett at the rally. "The dawn is coming. The spring is coming."
Despite cold temperatures, at least 40,000 people took part in the New York rally, with women's participation more visible than ever before at anti-war events.
Elsewhere outside the United States, huge rallies also took place in many European cities and Australia. Some estimates suggest that the turnout in Spain was close to 100,000.
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