WASHINGTON – Family members of troops deployed in Iraq walked to the gates of the White House, April 14, holding bouquets of carnations in memory of the 660 American soldiers and thousands of Iraqis who have died in the Iraq war. They carried, as well, hundreds of letters from military families demanding the safe return of their sons and daughters.

The protest came the morning after George W. Bush’s prime time news conference in which he faced sharp questions about the deaths of 83 U.S. soldiers last week as the occupation spirals out of control. He brushed these questions aside, vowing to “stay the course” and even to escalate the numbers of soldiers sent into the quagmire.

“Bush lies and who dies? America’s soldiers die in this immoral war,” said Fernando Suárez del Solar of San Diego, holding a poster with a picture of his son, Lance Corporal Jesus Suárez del Solar Navarro who was killed by an American cluster bomb in Iraq on March 27, 2003.

Sue Niederer of Pennington, N.J., held a poster of her son 1st Lt. Seth Dvorin, who was killed in Iraq on Feb. 2. Looking through wrought iron bars across the lush South Lawn of the White House, she declared, “What is he talking about? It’s arrogance. Mr. Bush, you are a coward and a murderer. You took our sons!”

Rosa and Mario Gonzalez were also there mourning the death of their son, Jorge, one of 17 Marines who died in the siege of Nasiriyah in the early days of the war. “I don’t know whether my son died from ‘friendly fire’ or enemy fire,” Rosa Gonzalez told the World. “When he died my whole family died with him, all his dreams and all our dreams too.”

Earlier, at a National Press Club news conference jointly sponsored by Military Families Speak Out, Bring Them Home Now, and United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the family members angrily denounced Bush for his stubborn refusal to face the fact that his war is a disaster. UFPJ National Coordinator, Leslie Cagan, said they called the news conference “because of the horrific escalation of the war” this past week.

“We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the military families,” Cagan said. “Our hearts go out to the Iraqi people. Bush must bring the troops home.” She urged constituents to set up meetings with lawmakers during the current congressional recess to demand that they act to end the war.

Maria Maldonado told the World her son Luis, deployed in Iraq since April 2003, has just had his tour extended. “My son is not a citizen. He applied but was rejected. They told him he will have to apply again. Do they want him to die in order to get his citizenship? Bush doesn’t care about the soldiers.”

Vicky Monk of Sammamish, Wash., said her son, too, has just had his year-long tour extended by three months. “He was looking forward to coming home tomorrow. It was the only thing keeping him going. Don Rumsfeld took that away from him. I want to tell President Bush: My son has fulfilled his obligation. It is time for him to come home. It’s time for all the troops to come home. … Bush is going to join half the country on the unemployment line if I have anything to say about it.”

Michael Hoffman of Morrisville, Pa., an artilleryman with the 1st Marine Division who participated in the invasion of Iraq, said his sergeant sat his squad down at the start of the war. “He told us ‘You are not here to be heroes, to find weapons of mass destruction, to bring democracy to Iraq. You are here for one thing only: oil.’” Hoffman warned that Bush will try to bring back the draft to reinforce troops in Iraq if he gets a second term.

Jessica Salamon, of Ravenna, Ohio, wife of a National Guard soldier recently deployed to Iraq, told the news conference, “My husband and I opposed this war from the beginning. I watched Bush last night. It was just business as usual.”

There’s so much unemployment in Ohio, she said, that most people are focused on the dire economy. “I’m unemployed myself. My husband was unemployed. But now I’m so worried about my husband’s safety I have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder,” she told the World. Bush narrowly carried Ohio in the 2000 election.

“I worked at a polling place in the primary election in Ohio,” Salamon told the World. “More than 100 people in my precinct said they have changed their registration and plan to vote against Bush. They say: ‘Anybody but Bush.’”

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