Thursday, October 26, 2006

Iraq withdrawal to be put to voters in three states

Iraq withdrawal to be put to voters in three states

BOSTON (AP) — Voters in three states will consider calls for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq when they go to the polls in less than two weeks.

Opinion polls show the increasingly unpopular war contributing to declining prospects for the Republican Party in nationwide congressional elections.

The referendums are the work of committed individuals such as 81-year-old Hamer Lacey, who hauled his broken back and clipboard to a Gloucester grocery store parking lot last summer, looking for signatures of residents who shared his fervent opposition to the war in Iraq.

His work put Gloucester among 139 Massachusetts communities where residents will vote next month on a non-binding question calling for an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Voters in several cities in Wisconsin and Illinois will consider a similar question. The referendums are held at the same time as elections for practical reasons.

Organizers said they do not expect the results to turn U.S. policy around. But they said the outcome could at least make the growing anti-war sentiment clear to policymakers.

"There's a gap between what the public wants and what public officials want," said Steve Burns of the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice. "They're not acting in our name. We hope, in time, we can bring them around."

Wade Zerkle, executive director of Vets for Freedom, said the referendums are a publicity stunt, and the outcome will not represent the majority: "I don't think a ballot referendum in some of the most liberal cities in America is going to hold much water."

He said most Americans, even those with growing doubts about the war, know that leaving Iraq prematurely will create a terrorist haven that the U.S. will have to deal with.

Since the March 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, more than 2,800 members of the U.S. military have been killed in Iraq, according to an Associated Press count. The United Nations has said 100 Iraqis are being killed each day.

"We're just hoping people will look into their hearts and say, 'What is going on here?"' said Paul Shannon of the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker peace group that helped organize the Massachusetts signature drive. "Are we really willing to throw away more lives tomorrow? For what?"

In Wisconsin, 10 communities will vote in November on withdrawal. In April, 24 of 32 Wisconsin communities voted in favor of removing U.S. forces.

In Illinois, the question will be considered in Chicago, as well as smaller cities, including Springfield and Urbana, and about a half-dozen towns.

The list of Massachusetts communities where the question will appear includes liberal cities such as Boston, Newton and Cambridge, and communities such as Chicopee, a town in western Massachusetts where Westover Air Reserve Base is situated.

Berkeley, California, and two Wisconsin communities also will vote on whether President Bush should be impeached.

Organizers said the results of the referendums cannot be dismissed as the opinions of a lot of liberals. Burns said six Wisconsin communities that voted last spring for withdrawal cast their ballots for Bush in 2004.

Lacey said he has been anti-war since his Navy service in World War II, when he witnessed the destruction in civilian areas of Japan. The retired pediatrician's signature-gathering was limited to a few hours at a time by pain from a cracked vertebra, suffered in an auto accident in 2003.

"The whole gist of the Bush presidency is in conflict with what my ideals are," he said.

Zaida Walters of Houston, whose Marine son was killed in Fallujah, disagreed with the call to bring the troops home. She said her son, Leroy Sandoval Jr., was committed to the mission and would believe in it today.

"I think we need to finish what we started," Walters said. "I really do."

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