WASHINGTON – Anti-war demonstrators and their equally agitated counter-demonstrators dressed up and made noise Tuesday as the two sides met outside the American Petroleum Institute to both protest and support the Bush administration's policies toward Iraq.
Several dozen peace activists, who charged the possible war with Iraq was motivated by President Bush's ties to oil interests, carried signs declaring, "Bush & Cheney: Fossil Fuels" and chanted "Drop Bush, Not Bombs."
About 20 counter-protesters carried "Saddam Loves Greenpeace" signs and urged onlookers to "Save the Kurds." The counter-protesters were led by two people dressed as Saddam and Darth Vader, the antagonist of the Star Wars movie series. The two went around thanking the anti-war protesters for attempting to stop U.S. domestic energy production.
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader led the anti-war demonstrators, who were said to be holding protests at gas stations across the country.
"This is a government that is marinated in oil," the former presidential candidate said.
"It is not credible that there would be such a strong push for war if there were no oil in Iraq," Nader wrote in a statement on his Web site. "Oil is power and this is in significant measure a struggle over that power."
Nader noted that Bush received nearly $2 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry during the 2000 election and Vice President Dick Cheney headed Halliburton, an energy company, before taking office.
Nader, who questioned meetings Cheney's energy task force held with industry executives while the White House formulated its energy policy, said he doesn't know if Iraq came up in those discussions. "But we do know that the vice president’s energy strategy casts a growing dependency on oil as an inevitability, recommending that the president make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy," Nader said.
Cheney's task force has come under fire multiple times within the past year as public interest groups have tried their luck in court to get the White House to make documents of those meetings public. They’ve had no such luck yet.
Nader’s group says 41 members of the Bush administration have ties to the oil industry, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, a former director of Chevron.
The Bush administration insists that its Iraq policy is based on the weapons of mass destruction it believes Saddam Hussein is hiding. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will meet with the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to provide what the White House considers irrefutable evidence Saddam is hiding such banned weapons and may have links to Al Qaeda.
Counter-demonstrators said that groups like Nader's undermine the government and create a more dangerous environment for U.S. military forces.
"If we go to war with Iraq in the next few weeks, all these folks protesting here just help the other guys think that Americans are not behind the war," said Chuck Williams, executive director of American Land Rights Association, an advocacy group that supports private property rights and the commercial use of public lands. "They'll get our people killed, just like in Vietnam."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.