Thousands of angry protestors including the families of dead US soldiers marched in Washington Saturday demanding an end to the war in Iraq, the return of US troops, and the impeachment of President George W. Bush.

A crowd of protesters some 4,000 to 6,000 strong gathered outside the White House before marching under a clear sky to the US Capitol building. Many waved placards that read “Support our troops, stop the war,” and “Impeach Bush.”

Several dozen demonstrators stretched out on their backs in front of Congress, which was not in session, in what they termed a “die-in,” drawing attention to the rising death toll in insurgency-stricken Iraq.

One hundred ninety-seven people, including dozens of veterans and activists, were arrested as they crossed police lines, organizers said. Police also used pepper-spray to disperse the crowd, according to the Act Now to Stop War & End Racism (ANSWER) coalition, the group that organized the march.

US television networks broadcast pictures of scuffles between protestors and police.

Phil Aliff, 21, marched wearing his camouflage uniform jacket as part of a group called Iraq Veterans Against the War. He first arrived in Iraq in July 2006.

“I stayed there for a year, in Abu Ghraib and outside Fallujah. When we arrived, we were told we were here to bring stabilization to the country,” said Aliff.

“But we were not rebuilding anything. The Iraqis had only two hours of electricity. And I saw the atrocities committed by the Americans there.”

Aliff spoke days after the top US general in Iraq, David Petraeus, testified before Congress, giving an optimistic report on conditions in Iraq and the effectiveness of the US president’s “surge” strategy of adding more US troops to the fight.

“General Petraeus’s report is incredibly far from the reality on the ground,” said Aliff.

Another marcher, Diane Santoriello, held a photograph of her 25-year-old son Neil, lost in Iraq on August 13, 2004. “I am here to get Congress to defund the war,” she said.

“The vast majority of Iraqi people want the US and other foreign forces out of the country,” said Brian Becker with the ANSWER.

“The vast majority of the people in the US want the war ended and the troops brought home now,” he added.

Speakers also included activist Cindy Sheehan, who lost her US soldier son, Casey, in Iraq and became a figurehead for the anti-war movement.

The highest percentage ever of Americans — 62 percent — now believe the war was a mistake, while 59 percent believe it is not worth American lives, according to a poll published last week.

Americans trust US military commanders over President George W. Bush or the Democratic-controlled US Congress to successfully end the Iraq war, according to the New York Times/CBS News poll published Monday.

When asked to choose who could best end the war, 68 percent said they most trusted the military commanders, 21 percent said Congress, and just five percent said the Bush administration.

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