Columbia forum discusses rising costs of war in Iraq

Critics of U.S. policy react to `sobering year,' price of democracy abroad

March 22, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Two Maryland congressmen were among a number of critics of the Bush administration's actions in the Iraq war yesterday at a forum in Columbia, and an Afghan woman urged that her people's plight not be overlooked.

About 100 people attended the event at Owen Brown Interfaith Center, echoing criticism nationally and abroad of the administration's methods in toppling the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

The woman - who used the alias Sahar Saba out of concern for her safety and that of family members living in Pakistan - said the United States must remember Afghanistan and not replace the Taliban with fundamentalist warlords who are almost as bad.

Speaking for a group called the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, she told the audience that Osama bin Laden was once considered a freedom fighter by U.S. policymakers for fighting against the Soviet Union.

The woman, who said she was born in Afghanistan but grew up as a refugee in Pakistan, said that returning Northern Alliance warlords and their ilk to power to replace the Taliban won't make life better or create democracy for Afghans in the long run.

"It's like a nightmare having [the warlords] in power."

About Iraq, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin said that the war will cost more than $250 billion and won't help win the struggle against international terrorism.

"I'm very happy Saddam Hussein is in a prison," said Cardin, an opponent of the Iraq invasion. "He is a war criminal. I want to see a Democratic country in Iraq, but there's a right way and a wrong way."

Invading Iraq in a pre-emptive strike set a bad precedent for other nations with grievances against their neighbors, the 3rd District Democrat said, adding that President Bush's refusal to wait for international help will cost the United States dearly in rebuilding costs.

Christopher Hellman, a military budget analyst with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, supported Cardin's assessment.

Military costs are climbing at an unprecedented rate and, together with the Bush tax cuts, will cause interest payments on the federal deficit to double before the end of this decade, Hellman said.

Bridget Moix, a foreign policy lobbyist for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker group, said estimates are that roughly 10,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, although the United States and its allies are making no effort to count civilian casualties.

Her group is pushing for legislation to account for intelligence failures, curb war profiteering, plan for Iraq's future, and re-examine U.S. foreign policy and domestic security.

Still, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a 7th District Democrat who leads the Congressional Black Caucus, said the United States cannot now withdraw from Iraq.

"We cannot leave people in Iraq worse off than when we found them," Cummings said.

Bush and Congress are "caught in a bind" he said, as casualties mount, allies such as Spain and Poland begin to publicly air doubts, and the reason for the war turns out to be regime change rather than elimination of weapons of mass destruction.

"It's been a very sobering year," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Columbia Democrat and anti-war activist who with Cummings attended a rally in the same building last year as they urged President Bush not to launch the invasion.

"There is nothing more patriotic than to question our government," Bobo said, adding that what Americans must learn is that "every Iraqi child is worth every bit as much as a child in the United States."

Yesterday's "Cost of War" forum was sponsored by the Howard County Coalition for Peace and Justice, which according to a spokeswoman wants U.S. troops out of both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We believe they should come out, now," said Leslie Salgado, who, as chairwoman of Howard County Friends of Latin America, has helped organize numerous anti-war meetings and demonstrations in recent years.

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