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Nation's commitment to Iraq war may be slipping


SOME IN CONGRESS MORE VOCAL IN OPPOSITION; RESOLUTION CALLS FOR WITHDRAWAL NEXT YEAR
By Ron Hutcheson
KNIGHT RIDDER WASHINGTON BUREAU

WASHINGTON - Two years after the Iraq invasion, America seems to be losing its stomach for war.

With recent polls finding support for the Iraq war at a record low, members of Congress are becoming increasingly vocal about their desire for an exit strategy. Yesterday, 41 House Democrats formed a new "Out of Iraq" caucus.

Separately, four lawmakers -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- introduced a resolution calling for withdrawal starting in October 2006. It doesn't specify an end point for complete withdrawal, but it bucks the Bush administration line all the same.

Its sponsors include Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., a conservative whose district includes the Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune. He's hardly a stereotypical dove; in the early days of the war, Jones' anger over French opposition prompted him to propose replacing French fries with "freedom fries" on the menu in Capitol dining rooms.

Resolution supporters acknowledged that it has little chance of passage in the Republican-controlled Congress. They said their goal was to start a national debate on bringing home the 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. More than 1,700 Americans have died since President Bush ordered the invasion on March 19, 2003.

"Do we want to be there 20 years, 30 years? That's why this resolution is so important: We need to take a fresh look at where we are and where we're going," Jones said at a Capitol news conference. The resolution's other sponsors were Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas; Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio; and Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii.

Also yesterday, a hearing on a secret British intelligence memo, which said Bush was committed to waging war on Iraq months before he said so publicly, ended with a request for Congress to open an inquiry into whether Bush should be impeached for misleading the nation.

"All we're asking is to know the truth," said John Bonifaz, co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org. "Some of his supporters want to say it's a question of failed intelligence. If that's all it was, so be it."

The hearing focused on the now-famous Downing Street memo, named after the Downing Street office of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The memo was written on July 23, 2002, by a top Blair adviser.

The memo reports that Bush appeared determined in summer 2002 to proceed with war and had "fixed" intelligence to boost his case before the country and the world.

In another development, anti-war activists delivered petitions with more than 540,000 signatures to the White House demanding that Bush respond to the allegations that he deceived people in the run-up to war.

Bush repeatedly has said that he accurately presented the facts as he knew them, although he's acknowledged that he was wrong about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. He also has long maintained that he didn't make a final decision to go to war until shortly before the invasion.

The fledging anti-war movement is a long way from the groundswell of opposition that rose up against the Vietnam War in the late '60s, but Bush is concerned enough to step up efforts to rally public support. Bush will welcome Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to the White House next week. He also plans a series of speeches on his goals in Iraq.

"People are concerned about the situation in Iraq," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday. "The president wants to see the troops come home soon. But the best way to honor the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform is to complete the mission."

At the Pentagon, Defense officials and military commanders said talk of withdrawal could undermine U.S. troop morale and encourage Iraqi insurgents. They declined to predict when U.S. troops might come home or offer any clear yardstick for victory.

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