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Friday, June 2, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Cantwell can't hide from her position on Iraq

Special to The Times

According to a recent Angus Reid poll, Maria Cantwell's support continues to decline, dropping rapidly to a 5-point lead, from 13 points, over her Republican challenger in just three months.

There is a great deal of disappointment with the senator from what should be her base of support, because her position on Iraq has been and remains indistinguishable from George Bush's.

Her policy is to keep our troops there, trust in the administration to bring about a secure democracy in Iraq and ignore all signs to the contrary. This policy is not only contrary to the will of the Democratic Party in this state, but also against the will of the Iraqi people, the soldiers stationed there and the voters of Washington state.

• When the Iraqi people were polled by the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004, 55 percent said that the U.S. soldiers should leave immediately.

• When the British Ministry of Defense polled the Iraqis in 2005, an overwhelming 82 percent were "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops. While less than 1 percent of the population believed coalition forces were responsible for any improvement in security, 67 percent of Iraqis felt less secure because of the occupation by coalition forces.

• A Zogby poll released in February showed, "An overwhelming majority of 72 percent of American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within 2006."

• And the Republican organization, Strategic Vision, released a poll of Washington state likely voters taken in April. That poll shows 55 percent of respondents favor an immediate withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq within six months.

In supporting a stay-the-course policy on the war, Cantwell risks her office and endangers our soldiers, all because she trusts the administration's Iraq strategy more than she trusts her party, the Iraqis, the soldiers or the voters.

In our form of government, an elected official has the right to ignore his or her constituency. The voters can try persuasion, but when that fails, they must make a choice. Given that the two candidates for Senate with statewide visibility and adequate resources both support the war, people opposed to the war face a challenge.

What we cannot do is allow any candidate to bury this issue. Iraq is not just one issue out of many. It is a war. We bombed and invaded a nation that was no threat to us. More than 100,000 Iraqis and more than 2,400 American soldiers are dead, with several times that number maimed and traumatized. Hundreds of billions of dollars are lost and several times that amount will be lost over time. We have left the nation of Iraq a polluted ruin, torn by civil strife, and it is getting worse.

This was a war caused by political leaders like President Bush and Sen. Cantwell. It continues on with no end in sight because those leaders believe they won't be held accountable.

In a guest column ("The year of transition in Iraq" Seattle Times op-ed, May 4), Cantwell gave advice to the president, the leaders of Iraq and the world — advice no one will listen to. It is her vote in the Senate that speaks in terms that will be heard. And those votes have inextricably linked her to all the death and suffering this war has caused and will continue to cause.

I will not offer the senator advice, which I am sure will go unheeded. It is my vote that will speak the only language she will hear. And, I for one will not vote for any candidate who supports the continuation of the war. To do so would make me an accomplice to the suffering caused by this war; and unless candidates understand that their support of the war ensures their electoral loss, the war will continue.

The senator hides her unlimited support for the war by the flowery phrase "a year of transition" for Iraq. If she persists in ignoring the will of her party, the voters, the soldiers and the people of Iraq, I fear it will be a phrase she will come to regret.

The Rev. Rich Gamble is pastor of Keystone United Church of Christ in Wallingford and member of the Interfaith Network of Support for the People of Iraq, www.concernforiraq.org

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