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Council: Bring troops home


By Phillip Reese
Sacramento Bee

The Sacramento City Council called Tuesday night for the "rapid and comprehensive withdrawal of United States military personnel and bases from Iraq," citing the financial and human costs of the war on local resources.

The resolution, sponsored by council members Lauren Hammond and Ray Tretheway, puts Sacramento on a short but growing list of cities nationwide pressing for a quick withdrawal. Chicago's council recently approved a similar measure. San Francisco made the same call a year ago. And dozens of towns in Vermont have called for a withdrawal.

"When enough Congress members see there are enough cities throughout the United States saying it's time to bring our troops home, they will come up with a good exit strategy," Hammond said.

Councilman Robbie Waters, on the other hand, said the City Council had little business taking an official stance on an issue largely beyond its control.

"This is a matter best left to our elected officials in Washington, D.C.," Waters said.

The resolution, which passed 8-1 with Waters opposed, cited a number of reasons the United States should leave Iraq soon, including:

* The deaths of more than 2,000 U.S. troops.

* The billions of dollars spent on the war, including an estimated $300 million from Sacramento alone.

* The government's failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, one of the reasons cited for undertaking the war.

* The "grave harm to the people of Sacramento, especially its low-income residents and communities of color."

More than 100 people attended Tuesday's hearing, most of them opponents of the war. Sacramento anti-war activists praised the council's actions.

"We're not Berkeley or San Francisco," said Cres Vellucci, who is with the Sacramento Coalition to End the War. "If our city does something like this, it sends a message up and down the state."

It has been more than two years since the United States toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein. Since then, hundreds of soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians have died. At the same time, however, Iraq has moved toward a democracy, recently adopting a draft constitution.

Public support for the administration's handling of the war has waned: More than half of Americans now believe it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq, according to the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll.

The nation is divided about when all troops should come home. In a poll last month taken by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University, about 48 percent of Americans said they wanted a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, while 46 percent favored staying until Iraq is more secure.

Even some who opposed the war aren't in favor of immediate withdrawal. Erik Gustafson, executive director of the Washington-based Education for Peace in Iraq Center, said the war in Iraq was a bad idea, but leaving tomorrow would create a number of problems.

"You have insurgents who are determined to use violence to overthrow Iraq's elected government, to derail the political process, to see the clock set back and return to an authoritarian regime," he said, contending that immediate troop withdrawal would allow such groups to operate more freely. "That serves nobody's interests."

While saying he neither supported nor opposed the city's resolution and noting that anything that stimulates discussion of Iraq is a good thing, Gustafson said he has problems with parts of the measure's language. The resolution doesn't do enough, he said, to note America's responsibilities to Iraq.

"This is what is now at stake: Iraq's fledgling democracy, the violent partitioning of Iraq, abandoning the Iraq people once again," said Gustafson, a veteran of the first Gulf War.

On the other hand, others who opposed the war think it's time for America to leave. Michael Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook who has written against the war for several left-leaning publications, argues that the presence of American troops in Iraq is stimulating the violent insurgency.

"It is in reaction to this brutality of this American occupation that most of the violent acts of the insurgency take place," Schwartz said in an interview Tuesday.

About the writer:
The Bee's Phillip Reese can be reached at (916) 321-1137 or preese@sacbee.com.

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