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San Francisco Chronicle - Over 500 Gather in S.F. to Protest Iraq War

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San Francisco Chronicle - Over 500 Gather in S.F. to Protest Iraq War

More than 500 people gathered Sunday evening at San Francisco's Unitarian Universalist Church for a peace vigil followed by a march, the first of numerous events this week to commemorate the fifth anniversary Wednesday of the war in Iraq.

Speakers - including state Sen. Carole Migden and former San Francisco Supervisor and current Green Party vice presidential candidate Matt Gonzalez - condemned the offensive that began the night of March 19, 2003, with air raids over Baghdad designed to inspire "shock and awe" (in the words of President Bush) in the Iraqi people and the government of Saddam Hussein.

They blasted the war on moral grounds as well as for its human toll - 4,000 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead - and financial cost - $12 billion a month, according to a recent study by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who estimates the tab could reach $3 trillion.

Migden praised the people of the Bay Area for their long-standing commitment to peace: "We're converting people all over the country to the rightness of ending the war and using the money at home."

And several speakers exhorted the crowd of longtime peace activists and first-time protesters to put aside their differences and work harder to build a more powerful peace movement.

Some at the vigil pointed to other grim anniversaries. It was Palm Sunday, noted anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan said, and that was the day, four years ago, when her son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq.

"It's frustrating and sad" that the United States is about to enter its sixth year at war in Iraq, said Sheehan, who is running for Congress against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. "But it's good to see people here are committed. It's important to keep the pressure up."

Daniel Ellsberg, a onetime military analyst who released the Pentagon Papers to the press during the Vietnam War, reminded listeners that Sunday was the 40th anniversary of the My Lai massacre, in which U.S. soldiers gunned down as many as 504 Vietnamese villagers, mostly women, children and elderly people.

"That's what people do under orders," he said. "Today we're looking at a My Lai writ large - that is Iraq."

But Ellsberg celebrated the individual soldiers at My Lai who refused to participate in the attack and even tried to rescue wounded civilians. And he invited the crowd at the church to join him in a "die in" Wednesday at noon outside the San Francisco office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

"We may be arrested for disturbing the peace," he said. "But there is no peace."


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