SAN FRANCISCO -- A dozen women carrying limp rag dolls, symbols of Iraqi children killed by coalition troops, kicked off four days of anti-war demonstrations expected to stretch throughout the country.
Dressed in black veils and gowns, Mourning Mothers gathered Sunday in front of the gilded bronze doors and imposing facade of San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, the largest Gothic structure in the West. They decried the U.S.- and British-led invasion of Iraq, as well as reconstruction plans by the maligned engineering conglomerate Bechtel Corp.
"They armed Saddam Hussein and pushed for war in Iraq and stand to make enormous, egregious profit," Mourning Mother spokeswoman Mary Bull said of Bechtel executives. "That money should go to education and social programs. Our point is to put humanitarian needs and Iraqi self-determination above corporate needs."
Protesters distributed leaflets at church services and outside San Francisco yoga studios Sunday. They plan to release a scathing report Wednesday, called "Bechtel's Global Trail of Tears: Stopping the Corporate Invasion of Iraq."
Bechtel protests are expected to crescendo Thursday, when activist groups are planning sit-ins at the privately held company's San Francisco headquarters and at offices in Washington, Chicago, Houston and Pittsburgh.
Bechtel engineers built the Hoover Dam during the Great Depression and more recently turned a Saudi Arabian fishing village into an industrial complex.
But activists say Bechtel, which gave $1.3 million to political candidates from 1999 through 2002, exploited political connections and pushed America into war to win the lucrative reconstruction contract in Iraq.
In April, the U.S. Agency for International Development awarded Bechtel an initial $34.6 million contract that could eventually be worth $680 million. Bechtel is widely perceived as the front-runner for future business as the United States spends up to $100 billion in the biggest reconstruction project since the aftermath of World War II.
A Bechtel spokesman could not be reached Sunday for comment.
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