Protesters seeking a US withdrawal from Iraq gathered near Bush's ranch for a rally and were met, in this tiny town of 750, by a group of Bush supporters on Saturday.

The squaring off stirred up Crawford, which usually swelters quietly in the August heat. About 1000 people swarmed into town and police came out in force.

The antiwar protest was launched a week ago by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a US soldier killed in Iraq in April 2004. She decided to camp outside Bush's ranch until he meets with her, and to demand a withdrawal of the 138,000 US troops.

Asked on Saturday about the presence of Bush supporters opposite the anti-war protestors, Sheehan said: "I don't want to argue with them. This is their right as Americans to do what they do, and we realise that."

Counter cause

A protester puts flowers and
crosses on the side of the road

Thomas Zapp, the father of another soldier killed in Iraq in November 2004, came to rally for Bush and to talk to Cindy.

"She expresses her opinion and I want to express mine to her. She has no right to call Bush a murderer and to compare him to Saddam Hussein," he said.

Some 1840 US troops have been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

Cindy's story

Before Sheehan's son was killed her life was, by all appearances, very normal.

She grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, and married her high school sweetheart, Patrick Sheehan. They had four children. She volunteered at a Vacaville church and later, as the children grew, she worked there.

In April 2004, her oldest son Casey, 24, a father of twin girls, was killed in Iraq.

"I was a mom in deep shock and deep grief," she says.

Two months later she met Bush, a meeting she describes as disturbingly placid. While she found him to be a "man of faith", she also said later that he seemed "totally disconnected from humanity and reality".

And when she later heard him speak of soldiers' deaths as "noble," Sheehan felt she had to do something. "The shock has worn off and deep anger has set in," she said.

Peace movement

Sheehan co-founded an anti-war organisation and began talking, demonstrating, speaking at a congressional hearing. She got a website, a public relations assistant (financed by an anti-war group), an entourage of peace activists and a speaking tour.

Diane Morse joins Seehan's
peace protest outside the ranch

But while her message was strong and widely disseminated, she did not become world famous until about a week ago when, after speaking at the annual Veterans For Peace national conference in Dallas, she took a bus to Crawford to have a word with her president.

For the record, here's what she says she wants to tell him: "I would say, 'What is the noble cause my son died for?' If the cause is so noble, has he encouraged his daughters to enlist? And I would be asking him to quit using Casey's sacrifice to justify continued killing, and to use Casey's sacrifice to promote peace."

Sheehan's peaceful vigil, her unstoppable anguish, her gentle way of speaking, have captured attention for an anti-war movement that until now hasn't had much of a leader. Over the past week she appeared on every major television and radio network and in newspapers around the world.

Sheehan, a lifelong Democrat, said that until her son died, she'd never spoken out about her views. She was too young during the Vietnam War. "I only saw it on the news and I thought it was horrible," she said. She didn't agree with the first Gulf War, but only talked about it with friends and classmates.