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Anxiety builds for an exit strategy



Published: Fri, June 17, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Four legislators have introduced a resolution calling for withdrawal.

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

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

With 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. On Thursday, 41 House Democrats formed a new "Out of Iraq" caucus.

Resolution introduced

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 said 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.

Petition delivered

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

The controversy kicked up anew after publication last month of a secret British government memo, which said Bush "fixed" intelligence to promote his choice for war and that he'd been determined to go to war months before he said so publicly.

Bush repeatedly has said he accurately presented the facts as he knew them, although he has acknowledged 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.

Pentagon response

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.

"When the Iraqis feel that they're able to take the reins completely, then, I think, we'll be looking at the V-word," said Lt. Gen. James Conway, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

A recent Gallup poll found a majority of Americans -- 59 percent -- favors partial or total withdrawal. In another sign of ebbing support, only 42 percent felt that the war was worth it, down from a high of 76 percent in the war's early days.




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