About 500 supporters of the U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf marched along Pennsylvania Avenue NW and then held a flag-waving rally at the Ellipse yesterday.
Organizers had expected as many as 5,000 people, but said the bitter cold kept many along the East Coast from driving to Washington to take part in the march, which included a mock tank aboard a tractor-trailer, several trucks with loudspeakers blaring patriotic songs and hundreds of flags, large and small.
The march was coordinated by the Coalition of American Pride and Friends of the Armed Forces.
Most of those who attended were of college age, although the noisy caravan included veterans and about a dozen members of the Guardian Angels.
In interviews, several marchers said Saddam Hussein is directly responsible for the deaths of scores of civilians killed during a U.S. raid last week, arguing that he had purposely placed them there.
They were equally skeptical of Iraq's conditional offer to withdraw from Kuwait, a proposal that Brett Balkcum, 27, called "just another scam by Saddam Hussein."
"There is a possibility that he is changing his mind about holding on to Kuwait," said Balkcum, a Forestville resident who drove to the march with his brother, Adam, 22. "But as far as stopping the air campaign, I'd be dead against that."
Bryan Wilkes, a member of the Coalition of American Pride's central committee, said Iraq's offer to abide by the United Nations resolution and withdraw is an oxymoron because the same resolution stipulates that such a withdrawal be unconditional.
"The peace initiative was nothing more than what Saddam Hussein has been saying all along, with extra conditions," said Wilkes, 23.
The march, which began at the Capitol, followed the same path used in anti-war demonstrations. Yesterday's marchers endured temperatures in the twenties and chilly winds. At Lafayette Square, in front of the White House, the marchers paraded past about 50 people opposed to the U.S. policies, separated from them by a chain-link fence.
"Cease fire, cease fire," shouted the anti-war contingent, banging on drums. "We support the troops. We want them home alive."
"U.S.A., U.S.A.," came the response. One supporter walked up to anti-war demonstrators one at a time and said, "Hussein appreciates your efforts . . . . Hussein says thank you . . . . Hussein loves all you guys . . . . "
At the Ellipse, where the wind whipped the flags taut, several spoke in support of the troops. Jennifer Schmidt, an organizer whose son, Philip, 20, is stationed in Saudi Arabia, asked at one point if there were any other mothers with children in the Persian Gulf.
Two women raised their hands, and Schmidt asked those around them to give them a hug. One mother, wearing a red coat and a hat, holding a small American flag, was plainly moved by the gesture.
"God bless your son," said one man before he hugged her.