No permanent bases  Congress vote shows growing public pressure to exit Iraq

WASHINGTON — Peace organizations hailed Senate enactment May 3 of an amendment by Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) that cuts off funds for construction of permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq while affirming that the U.S. does not seek “control over the oil infrastructure or oil resources of Iraq.”

The amendment was approved by voice vote as part of a $65 billion supplemental spending bill to pay for the Iraq occupation. In March, the House approved, also by voice vote, a measure introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) that bars funds for permanent U.S. bases in Iraq.

“This is an important milestone in the development of U.S. policy toward Iraq,” said Joe Volk, executive secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). “For the first time since the U.S. launched the invasion of Iraq in 2003, both chambers of Congress have now said the U.S. must change course in Iraq. This congressional action also sends a clear signal that the Bush administration has to change policy in Iraq now.”

Sue Udry, legislative director of United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ), told the World, “We’ve worked very hard for both the Lee and Biden bills and their passage is good news. It’s Congress standing up to Bush and denying him funds for permanent occupation. It shows that Congress is not deaf to the majority of the people in this country who want to get out of Iraq. There is a lot of work to be done but this is definitely a step in the right direction.”

UFPJ, she said, is supporting other bills, including HR 4232, a measure by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) that terminates funds for the military occupation of Iraq. UFPJ is now organizing a grassroots lobby day May 21-22 in Washington similar to the lobby day that followed the huge peace demonstration last Sept. 26, to push for enactment of the McGovern bill, as well as a bill by Jack Murtha (D-Pa.), HJRes 73, and “Homeward Bound,” HR 55, a bill by Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and Walter Jones (R-N.C.) to open the way for an exit strategy from Iraq.

“We supported the Murtha resolution because he was a good messenger, a decorated war veteran, a conservative, pro-military lawmaker,” Udry said. “Partly because he moved the debate forward, other bills have been introduced that are stronger than his.”

Udry urged peace activists to log on to the UFPJ web site, www.unitedforpeace.org, and register to participate in the lobby day. UFPJ, she added, will make these bills “an election year issue, talking not just with the candidates but with the voters about bringing the troops home.” The get-out-the-vote-for-peace drive was launched April 29 when 350,000 people marched in the UFPJ-initiated antiwar action in New York City.

A New York Times/CBS poll released May 10 show Bush’s approval rating has plunged to a new low with only 39 percent approving his Iraq war, down from 47 percent in January. Only 13 percent approved of his handling of zooming gasoline prices. It was grim news for incumbent Republicans facing the 2006 elections. Yet Bush recently told a news conference that it will be up to the next president to decide whether to withdraw troops from Iraq. At least 14 permanent bases are now under construction across Iraq by Halliburton, Bechtel and other war profiteers.

Rick McDowell, FCNL senior fellow for Iraq, told the World that while the Lee and Biden amendments fall short of an exit strategy, “we now have from both houses a clear statement that the U.S. does not plan to occupy Iraq permanently. The next step is: What is the timeline? What is the exit strategy? Where does the Congress go from here?”

McDowell lived with his wife in Baghdad for a year in 2003 and has led 15 delegations to Iraq in the years 1996-2002. He is in daily telephone contact with friends and co-workers in Iraq.

“Most Iraqis do not want their country occupied indefinitely,” McDowell said. “The number of innocent civilians being killed, the ethnic cleansing, assassinations targeted along religious and ethnic lines, the decline in basic services, the general lawlessness — from every Iraqi I speak with, there is a consensus that conditions are deteriorating.”

He cited a May 2 UNICEF report that 25 percent of Iraqi children ages six months to 5 years are suffering “acute or chronic malnutrition.”

He concluded, “The reality is that U.S. forces are not going to be removed from Iraq until the U.S. Congress, or the administration, decides that it must end. If we are convinced this war is wrong, we have to influence our congressional representatives and senators.”

FCNL, he said, is seeking a House majority for a discharge petition to bring the Homeward Bound bill to the House floor. “It would insure 17 hours of floor debate on the war,” he said. “That is what is missing. There has been little or no debate since the war began. This war is now costing $10 billion each month. The people are entitled to a debate on how their tax dollars are being spent.”

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