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Democrats Launch Iraq Petition

With little progress against the war being made on Capitol Hill, 16 Members of Congress are rallying behind a national campaign to corral Democratic superdelegates into signing a petition to insert anti-war language into the party platform in 2008.

As the Democratic nominating contest continues to churn, the anti-war Members, who are divided between the candidates, are seeking a show of unity on a subject dear to the Democratic base. They are working with Win Without War, a broad-based anti-war coalition that includes

Iraq has been a prominent issue in the fight between Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.): Clinton voted for the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, while Obama, who was not a Senator at the time, said he would have voted against it.

But both Obama and Clinton now say they would like to withdraw troops from Iraq as quickly as possible, though Obama has said he would do so in 16 months, while Clinton has been less specific.

The allegiance of House Members, regardless of their Iraq stance, is crucial in the Democratic contest because they are superdelegates who could ultimately pick the Democratic nominee. Superdelegates could also be swayed by the results of Tuesday’s Indiana and North Carolina primaries.

Members of the petition drive include former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), a big Obama supporter who is helping to spearhead the anti-war platform campaign, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee (Calif.), Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), John Lewis (Ga.), Jim Moran (Va.), Joe Sestak (Pa.) and Sam Farr (Calif.).

Including anti-war language in the party platform “will bring unity to our Caucus, and unity to the Democratic Party,” said Lee, an Obama supporter and founder of the Out of Iraq Caucus.

“Despite our respective positions on who the Democratic presidential nominee is, there’s no difference in opinion when it comes to our shared and unwavering resolve to end the occupation in Iraq.”

Woolsey, an avid Clinton supporter, said while she believes Clinton would pull troops out of Iraq “quicker, and she’d not waver on it,” she is also “gaining confidence that Barack Obama would be able to do the same with the experience that he will gain.”

Farr, who is uncommitted, said that he sees no big differences between the candidates on Iraq, and he argued they would have the same advisers once in the White House.

The policy direction for Iraq “is not just a statement of the president. It is accepted by Congress and the administration,” Farr said.

The anti-war petition calls on the Democratic national platform to include specific language advocating the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces and private military security contractors from Iraq, leaving no permanent military bases behind. It also calls on the party to promote a diplomatic surge in the Middle East including negotiations with Iran, and demands an end to torture and the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison.

Anti-war Democrats appear to be turning to the political arena to make their case as their chances of seriously influencing ongoing Congressional negotiations over the Iraq supplemental spending bill are waning. House Democratic leaders appear more likely to craft a supplemental without significant policy changes in Iraq as they wait for the next president to tackle the issue.

Moran, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, conceded to anti-war activists in a conference call last Thursday that “while we’re going to put some language that you’d be happy with in the Iraq supplemental, I’m not all that excited because we really haven’t made any progress in terms of Congressional limitations in the war.”

“That’s why it really comes down to the person sitting in the White House.”

Still, Moran said the supplemental will include language that would forbid torture by all federal agencies, not just the military; ban permanent military bases in Iraq; give soldiers adequate deployment time; and require the Iraqi government to lean on oil revenues to match the money being furnished by the United States.

The Iraq government is “just playing us for chumps, frankly” since Americans are paying some $4-a-gallon for gas while Iraq is holding onto “enormous oil surplus revenue,” Moran continued.

Win Without War is leading the charge for the petition, which was launched last Thursday to coincide with the fifth anniversary of President Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech atop an aircraft carrier.

The coalition is gearing up to send letters and e-mails to all Democratic superdelegates to inform them of the campaign and to ask for their support.

From there, they will attend regional party platform hearings to make the pitch for adding the language. Recommendations are then made from regional groups to the national platform committee, which will officially endorse the platform at the Denver convention in August.

Superdelegates from both campaigns are enthusiastic about the plan because it gives them an opportunity to “focus on A) substance and B) on a clear difference between Democrats and Republicans, specifically between the presidential candidates,” said Tom Andrews, the coalition’s national director.

Without a presumptive nominee, Democrats are feeling like the party ought to “get moving where there’s clear common ground,” Andrews said. The theme of getting out of Iraq “needs to be front and center, with every opportunity to promote, organize and mobilize around this message.”

Andrews said Democratic National Committee members are “very enthusiastic” about adding anti-war language to the platform and contended that he is “confident” it will happen. Ultimately, it is the presidential nominee who has the largest influence over the platform, he said, and “we have secured key members of both teams of both major presidential candidates.”

Asked why there needs to be a campaign for adding anti-war language if so many Democrats are in agreement, Andrews said, “It’s not so much lobbying, in the sense that it’s a hard sell. … Superdelegates recognize this as a very powerful message and the question is, how can we reinforce this message.”

Still, Andrews acknowledged that there is not unanimity within the party on the issue and said anti-war Members are “hoping to make an impression on those reluctant Democrats who haven’t been willing to take a stand.”

But a DNC spokesman hadn’t heard of the campaign as of Monday and noted that the DNC platform committee “isn’t even set yet.”

“It’s a little bit tough for us to speculate on anything included in the platform,” the spokesman said.

The committee won’t even meet “until the summer, at the earliest,” the spokesman said, but added that the war was an “appropriate” topic for consideration.

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