US protests mark 2,000th US fatality in Iraq

Protesters across the United States took part in hundreds of vigils and rallies across the country on Wednesday to mark the 2,000th U.S. military death in Iraq, hoping to increase pressure on President George W. Bush to start bringing troops home.

Anti-war activists said their movement was rapidly growing in strength and now spoke for a majority of Americans who now thought Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was a mistake.

"We're seeing rapid changes in public opinion in favour of ending the war and bringing back the troops and it's beginning to be reflected in Congress," said Phyllis Bennis of the anti-war Institute for Policy Studies.

"The anti-war position is no longer held exclusively for activists. It is beginning to give voice to the majority in this country," she said.

The death on Saturday of a soldier wounded in combat in Samarra, Iraq, on October 17 pushed the toll to 2,000. More than 15,000 U.S. troops have also been wounded in combat in the war that began March 2003.

The anti-war said it was organising more than a thousand vigils involving tens of thousands of people across the country and it appealed to supporters to donate $150,000 (84,000 pounds) to air an anti-war TV ad, reports Reuters.

Bush said his strategy in Iraq requires patience, constant pressure on the insurgents and strong allies.

"Our commitment is clear," he said. "We will not relent until the organized international terrorist networks are exposed and broken, and their leaders are held to account for their murder."

Violence flared yesterday as three bombs exploded near a hotel in central Baghdad that is home to foreign and Iraqi journalists and Western contractors. At least 20 people were killed and 40 were wounded, the Associated Press reported.

For Iraq there will be "no peace without victory," Bush said. If the U.S. backs down the extremists will have a base of operations from which to spread their violent ideology, he said.

The president also renewed his warning to Syria and Iran, countries that he said are ``allies of convenience'' with Islamic radicals and seek ``to blame their own failures on the West, on America and on the Jews.''

Syria and its leaders, he said, "must be held accountable" for supporting terrorism and for any involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

The United Nations Security Council was briefed today by its investigator on Hariri's killing. The investigator, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, has linked Syrian officials to the attack, informs Bloomberg.