Bush marks Iraq date, omits using 'war' word

By Nedra Pickler
Associated Press / March 20, 2006

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WASHINGTON -- President Bush marked the anniversary of the Iraq war yesterday by touting the efforts to build democracy there and avoiding mention of the daily violence that has raged, three years after he ordered an invasion.

The president did not use the word ''war."

''We are implementing a strategy that will lead to victory in Iraq," the president said to a public that is increasingly skeptical that he has a plan to end the fighting after the deaths of more than 2,300 US troops. Antiwar protests were held throughout the country over the weekend, including a rally in Washington yesterday.

Bush said he spoke with US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, who said progress was being made by Iraqi leaders to form a government. Earlier yesterday, former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi said his country was in the midst of a civil war.

Over the weekend, several administration officials repeated the theme that progress continues toward building a unified Iraqi government and nation.

''Now is the time for resolve, not retreat," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wrote in a column for The Washington Post. ''Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis."

Yet there were acknowledgments from the top commander of US forces in Iraq that the situation is fragile and that he did not predict the strength of the insurgency.

''I did not think it would be as robust as it has been," General George W. Casey said on NBC's ''Meet the Press."

''And," he added ''it's something that, obviously, with my time here on the ground, my thinking on that has gained much greater clarity and insight."

The third anniversary of the US-led war in Iraq drew tens of thousands of protesters around the globe, from hurricane-ravaged Louisiana to Australia.

About 200 war veterans, hurricane survivors, and demonstrators gathered yesterday at the national cemetery in Chalmette, La., to protest how the military conflict overseas had hurt the country's ability to help the Gulf Coast recover from last year's hurricanes.

About 200 joined a march yesterday down Fifth Avenue in New York. One slogan was: ''We the People Need to do More to End the War." Seventeen people were arrested for disorderly conduct, police said. A rally Saturday in Times Square drew more than 1,000.

More than 7,000 people marched through Chicago on Saturday. Others marched in Boston, in San Francisco, and in Pittsburgh.

Antiwar rallies in Japan yesterday drew about 800 protesters chanting ''No war! Stop the war!" and banging drums as they marched through Tokyo toward the US Embassy. A day earlier, about 2,000 rallied in the city.

Protesters also gathered outside the US Embassy in Malaysia, and at least 1,000 people turned out in Seoul, which has the third-largest contingent of foreign troops in Iraq after the United States and Britain.