City Council weighs in on Iraq war

Panel adopts resolution urging troop withdrawal


The Baltimore City Council took a break yesterday from the routine of local government - renaming schools, appointing bureaucrats to commissions, closing alleys - and delved into U.S. foreign policy by demanding the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

The council unanimously approved a resolution at its meeting last night that urges President Bush and Congress to "commence a humane, orderly, immediate and comprehensive withdrawal" of military personnel and bases from Iraq.

The council's action might appear to critics as pointless, but council members said it represents discontent with Bush's foreign policy.

"This is not foreign policy," Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector said during last night's meeting. "This is hitting us locally."

Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. - who opposed a similar council resolution in 2002 against the Iraq war - said last night he decided the time is now right for the city to speak up. He said he was influenced by the deaths of soldiers from Baltimore and Maryland, especially a Marine whom he once taught in high school.

Still, council members have been derided in the past for dabbling in issues over which they have no influence. They have previously passed resolutions demanding the right of self-determination for the Lithuanian people, condemning slavery in Mauritania, criticizing the repression of the Ahmadiyya religious movement by the Pakistani government, and calling for the end of violence in Northern Ireland and apartheid in South Africa.

Before last night's meeting, which was marked by a somber, serious tone, council members did little to deflect derision from critics by engaging in an often glib luncheon debate about their action.

At one point during the council's lunch yesterday, members debated the word immediate, as if the resolution would force the U.S. military into a dilemma of having to leave Iraq right away.

Spector said her support could depend on the word immediate. The resolution's co-sponsor, Mary Pat Clarke, said she knows a withdrawal would "take a while," but that "it must begin."

Councilwoman Helen L. Holton came to Clarke's defense: "Immediate for government means in a year." (Except for the council, which suspended its rules in order to immediately adopt the resolution on the night it was introduced.)

Councilwoman Agnes Welch then asked: "Who are we sending this to?"

Clarke said it was being sent to President Bush, Congress and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Ehrlich? A council support staff member reminded the council that the Republican governor has no control over the deployment of the Maryland National Guard during war.

"They're federalized," Clarke agreed. "But," she added, "[the governor] has control."

Councilman Edward L. Reisinger asked whether the resolution was being sent to the governor of Iraq, eliciting laughter from his colleagues.

"I'm not sending one to Iraq," Clarke said.

Council President Sheila Dixon chimed in and said, "We will e-mail it to the soldiers."

Clarke said that perhaps they should send it to Mayor Martin O'Malley, a comment that prompted Spector to deliver a quick one-liner: "That's like sending it to the governor."

The room erupted into a collective moan, as if Spector had violated a taboo by prematurely calling O'Malley the winner of next year's gubernatorial election.

Ehrlich's office and the Maryland Republican Party found nothing funny about the council's action, which resembles resolutions passed in cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and Sacramento, Calif. (In fact, it exactly mirrors Sacramento's resolution except for the word "immediate." The California capitol's council used "rapid.")

"It's clearly political grandstanding by the City Council," said Audra Miller, a spokeswoman for the Maryland GOP. "They should concern themselves with the war going on in Baltimore every day."

Ehrlich spokeswoman Sharesse DeLeaver said President Bush commands the Maryland National Guard and the council should be more focused on the city's "failing schools" and high crime rate.

But Myles Hoenig, the community activist who asked Clarke to introduce the resolution, said the Republican Party should not be so dismissive of a resolution that he believes represents a groundswell of opposition.

"Tell them [Republicans] to join the Army and stand behind their words," Hoenig said.

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