About 150 backers of President Bush's policy toward Iraq gathered in the gray, slushy cold near the Washington Monument yesterday to express support for U.S. military forces gathering in the Persian Gulf and to urge the prompt ouster of Saddam Hussein.
Former U.S. representative Robert K. Dornan (R-Calif.) and other speakers pilloried both Hussein -- whom Dornan dubbed a "mini-me Hitler" -- and the millions of protesters who have thronged Washington and other world capitals in recent months to oppose war in Iraq.
The Bush supporters countered with yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flags and signs calling for the liberation of Iraq. One man wearing a rubber Hussein mask held a sign that said, "Thank You Anti-War Protesters, Love, Saddam."
"We are the good guys," said Dornan, a former Air Force fighter pilot and longtime conservative firebrand. "Never again will we put up with this kind of person who tortures children in front of their parents."
Of the war protesters, Dornan said, "They were wrong during Vietnam, and they're wrong today." He also called Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), a candidate for president who fought in Vietnam and then led protests against it, "a Judas Catholic." Kerry has criticized Bush's handling of Iraq.
As Dornan began his speech, a dissident Iraqi journalist, who said he had fled Baghdad after Hussein killed two of his brothers, ran toward the stage and threw a series of snowballs at a poster of the Iraqi president in military fatigues, knocking it over to cheers from the crowd.
"When Saddam goes down, the [antiwar] protesters will discover the murders and the acts he's done against the people," the journalist, Jabar Shalal, said later through a translator. He called the decision over whether to attack Iraq "a test for humanity" and said Hussein would never leave except through force.
"If Saddam stays, there will be no freedom," said Shalal, 44, who lives in Alexandria and works at a Giant Food store. "Freedom will lose its meaning."
He was among a group of dissidents from the Iraqi American Council who told of Hussein's attacks on his own people. The group showed pictures of the effects of chemical attacks by Hussein against the country's Kurdish minority in 1988.
The rally was organized by the D.C. Chapter of Free Republic, a conservative group that also called for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998. It also led "Get Out of Cheney's House" protests, aimed at Al Gore, at the U.S. Naval Observatory during the contested 2000 presidential election. The residence of the vice president is at the observatory.
Organizers had once hoped for 1,000 or more activists but several at the rally said the bleak, frigid weather and weak publicity probably kept many supporters at home.
"I know the numbers are small that come out to support our troops, but I wanted to add my one voice to that number," said Mary Neale, 63, a retired nurse from Baltimore. "I don't understand why people who support the president feel they can do it from their own homes. . . . I look at it as everyone here represents a large group."
Also traveling to Washington for the rally was Stephanie Souders, 23, a student in Worcester, Mass., who sang patriotic songs from the stage. She said in an interview that it was critical that Hussein be removed from power.
"This is not a man who we should be supporting or we should be leaving in power just for our own comfort," Souders said as she shivered.