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Activists in US Speak Out Against War in Iraq - 2003-03-21

U.S. activists have increasingly taken to the streets to express their opinion on the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Most support the war, but a vocal minority is speaking out against it.

Thursday, more than 1,300 anti-war protesters were arrested in San Francisco for blocking the streets of the city's financial district. Organizers say more than 10,000 turned out to call for an end to the bombing in Iraq.

Some 1,000 protesters took to the streets in Los Angeles. Fourteen were arrested. High school teacher Sissel Hawkes was there with some of her students. She wants U.S. troops out of Iraq. "They need to come home because they're putting their lives on the line, not for freedom, but I think it really is a move on oil. It's a way of controlling the Mideast," she said.

Most Americans disagree. In recent polls, approximately 70 percent of Americans surveyed said they favor the use of force to remove Saddam from power.

There have been demonstrations supporting U.S. troops in Mississippi and Nebraska. In Los Angeles, John Garden, carried a sign reading "America: Love It or Leave It." Dressed in military fatigues, he said he is a veteran of the first Gulf War and a part of what he calls the "silent majority."

Another war supporter is more restrained, but she endorses force to remove Saddam from power. "After all of these years of trying to be diplomatic and it not working, I don't know that we have any alternative but to do what we're doing. And I say that with the greatest hesitation and the greatest sadness in my heart," she said.

The war has stirred conflicting emotions among Iraqi Americans. Imam Mustafa al-Qaswini of the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County, California was born in Iraq and has relatives there, as do many in his Shi'ite congregation.

"Many members of our community had the chance to speak with their relatives about two or three days ago, before the communication was disconnected. And, of course, they heard their loved ones, some of them weeping and some of them very fearful of the outcome. So it's really a very sad moment. It's very tense. But we believe in the power of prayers. In my community, we are praying constantly for the Iraqi people, for the safety of the innocent people," Mr. al-Qaswini said.

The Muslim leader said they are praying the conflict will end soon with the capture or death of Saddam Hussein.

Opponents and supporters of the war agree on only one thing: they hope the fighting will end quickly.