By wire services
The protest in the capital unites a wide swath of Americans and is echoed in other cities.
WASHINGTON - Crowds opposed to the war in Iraq surged past the White House on Saturday, shouting "Peace now" in the largest antiwar protest in the nation's capital since the U.S. invasion.
The rally stretched through the day and into the night, filled with music, speechmaking and dissent on the National Mall. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, noting that organizers had hoped to draw 100,000 people, said, "I think they probably hit that."
Speakers from the stage criticized President Bush's policies head-on, but he was not at the White House to hear it. He spent the day in Colorado and Texas, monitoring hurricane recovery.
In the crowd: young activists, nuns whose antiwar activism dates to Vietnam and parents mourning their children in uniform lost in Iraq.
Connie McCroskey, 58, came from Des Moines, Iowa, with two of her daughters, both in their 20s, for the family's first demonstration. McCroskey, whose father fought in World War II, said she never would have dared protest during the Vietnam War.
"Today, I had some courage," she said.
While united against the war, political beliefs varied. Paul Rutherford, 60, of Vandalia, Mich., said he is a Republican who supported Bush in the last election and still does - except for the war.
"President Bush needs to admit he made a mistake in the war and bring the troops home, and let's move on," Rutherford said. His wife, Judy, 58, called the removal of Saddam Hussein "a noble mission" but said U.S. troops should have left when no weapons of mass destruction were found.
"We found that there were none and yet we still stay there and innocent people are dying daily," she said.
More than 1,900 members of the U.S. armed forces have died since the beginning of the war in March 2003.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people in a counter demonstration in support of Bush's Iraq policy lined the protest route near the FBI building. The two groups shouted at each other, a police line keeping them apart. Organizers of a pro-military rally scheduled for today said they expect more than 10,000 to attend.
Ramsey said the day's protest was mostly peaceful under the heavy police presence.
Folk singer Joan Baez marched with the protesters and later serenaded them at a concert at the foot of the Washington Monument.
The protest in the capital was one of a series of demonstrations in other U.S. cities and around the world.
A crowd in London marched in support of withdrawing British troops from Iraq. In Rome, dozens of protesters held up banners and peace flags outside the U.S. Embassy and covered a sidewalk with messages and flowers in honor of those killed in Iraq.
Cindy Sheehan, the California mother who drew thousands of demonstrators to her 26-day vigil outside Bush's Texas ranch last month, spoke from the stage in Washington. Her 24-year-old son, Casey, was killed in Iraq last year.
"How many more of other people's children are you willing to sacrifice?" she said.
She led the crowd in chanting, "Not one more."
Supporters of Bush's policy in Iraq dismissed the protesters.
Gary Qualls, 48, of Temple, Texas, whose Marine reservist son, Louis, died last year in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, asked: "If you bring them home now, who's going to be responsible for all the atrocities that happen over there? Cindy Sheehan?"
Public opinion, as it has been for several months, remains divided over the war.
"Despite a long summer with continued casualties, and a widely covered antiwar protest outside the president's vacation ranch, public attitudes on the war in Iraq are remarkable for their overall stability," concluded Andy Kohut, director of the nonpartisan Research Center, after a recent poll.
That survey, done Sept. 8-11, found a steady 49 percent saying the war was the right decision and 44 percent saying it was a mistake. It found that 51 percent of Americans support keeping troops in Iraq while 45 percent want to bring them home as soon as possible.
"I hope to let people know there are other voices out there, not just the radical left," said Joseph Williams, a California man who lost his son Michael in Iraq and is spearheading the pro-Bush event. "A major portion of our country supports our troops and the war."
Information from the Associated Press, Cox News Service and Knight Ridder news service was used in this report.