Peace mandate fuels drive to end Iraq war

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The nationwide peace coalition United for Peace and Justice has called for a mass march on Washington Jan. 27 to press the new Congress to “take immediate action to end the war.”

In a Nov. 13 statement headed “Bring the Mandate for Peace to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27,” the umbrella of more than 1,400 peace groups said, “On Election Day the voters delivered a dramatic, unmistakable mandate for peace. Now it’s time for action.”

A survey conducted for MoveOn.org Political Action found that “Iraq was the number one issue for voters in this election,” far exceeding other issues. The Nov. 5-7 poll of voters in the most competitive House and Senate races nationwide showed Iraq was the top issue among “key swing groups,” including seniors, “independents” and “moderates.”

“More than anything else, this election was a referendum on the administration’s policy in Iraq. It was the defining issue of the campaign and the primary reason Republicans lost their majority,” the progressive polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner reported.

Voters demand change and expect change, the poll summary said. “By a 54-39 percent margin, voters favor setting a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq,” it noted. “Even more (58 percent) want to increase congressional oversight of the president’s policies, including investigations into private contracting and intelligence gathering during the lead-up to the war.”

Senate Democratic leaders said last week that when the new Congress convenes in January they would call for phased redeployment of troops out of Iraq in four to six months. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said on ABC’s “This Week” Nov. 12, “There is no military solution in Iraq. There is only a political solution.” Levin will head the Senate Armed Services Committee in the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Also, a bipartisan group of senators led by Republican Susan Collins (Maine) and Democrat Russ Feingold (Wis.) announced they have introduced legislation to extend the life of the special investigation office that exposed major fraud and abuse related to multibillion-dollar contracts for rebuilding Iraq. The Republicans had snuck termination of the office into a defense spending bill pushed through before the elections.

Peace Action Executive Director Kevin Martin, in a Nov. 8 message, hailed the election results as “an opening for change.” But, he said, “The newly-elected Congress cannot spend two years simply investigating the missteps of the Bush administration — it must act to change our nation’s foreign policy, and immediately.”

“So the Democrats have a job to do,” he said. “But even more importantly, so do we, the peace movement and citizens of this country.”

Martin continued, “Thousands upon thousands of lives depend on our ability to ramp up pressure to make this new Congress actually do what was demanded of it in this election.”

UFPJ Co-Chair Judith Le Blanc said, “No matter what Bush says, the question is no longer ‘Should the troops come home?’ It’s about when and how. We can’t leave it up to the Bush administration to decide how it’s going to be done. They have shown that they don’t take into account the best interests of U.S. troops or the Iraqi people.”

It is critical to involve the international community, including Iraq’s neighbors, in supporting the Iraqi national reconciliation plan and helping Iraq regain sovereignty, Le Blanc emphasized. “There should be a call for international discussion on how to do this.”

“U.S. withdrawal is an important necessary step, but it is only one step in this process,” she added. “The only way to push back Bush is to say, ‘You’re not in charge. Let the UN and the Iraqi government and people take charge.’”

Le Blanc said proposals by peace advocate Tom Hayden and former Sen. George McGovern provide frameworks for a comprehensive solution that would get the U.S. out of Iraq and also enable the Iraqi people to achieve security and sovereignty and rebuild their country.

McGovern, whose 1972 presidential candidacy challenged the Nixon administration to end the Vietnam War, went to Capitol Hill to meet with members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus this week to discuss his “blueprint for leaving Iraq now.”

McGovern calls for phased withdrawal beginning by the end of this year, with a commitment to seek to complete it by June 30, 2007. He links this to a package of initiatives to help Iraq, funded by the U.S. at a fraction of the cost of an ongoing occupation.

These include a UN-sponsored international “stabilization force,” helping Iraq build a national police force and a reconstruction corps, shutting down U.S. bases in Iraq, turning the Green Zone occupation headquarters over to the Iraqi government by the end of 2007, and a project to clean up land mines and depleted uranium.

Hayden, who worked on the Paris Peace Talks that ended the Vietnam War, last month submitted recommendations for “exiting the Iraq quagmire” to the Iraq Study Group, headed by Bush I Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton. The group, which includes Reagan and Clinton administration figures, will reportedly issue its recommendations shortly.

Hayden calls for a timeline for beginning and/or completing troop withdrawals “in the near term,” and says it should be integrated with an invitation for engagement by the international community — “a proposal described as ‘U.S. out, UN in.’”