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As costs and casualties mount
US cities urge end to Iraq war
By Tony Favro, US Correspondent
9 May 2007: When President Bush appeared in a flight suit on the deck of aircraft carrier USS Lincoln on 1 May 2003 to declare an end to major combat in Iraq, he received high approval ratings in American public opinion polls. Four years later, the president’s ratings have fallen, and nearly 300 American cities have passed resolutions calling for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.
The cities are large and small and span the country from Seattle, Washington (population 563,000) to Montpelier, Vermont (pop. 58,000). They are home to over 30 million Americans. The campaign to pass local antiwar resolutions was initiated by Cities for Peace, a loose network of locally-based activists and local elected officials in the US working for social change. The campaign seeks to unite people and cities of many political ideologies, all of which are adversely affected by the war in some way.
While the local resolutions call the war unjustified and unwinnable and deplore the human costs of war (more than 3,300 American lives lost, tens of thousands of American soldiers wounded, and unknown thousands of Iraqi civilians injured or killed), a major factor of opposition by cities is also the war’s financial cost. Many urban mayors and elected officials believe the war has forced attention and resources away from important domestic issues.
Costs of war
According to the Associated Press, America’s cost for the war in Iraq is US$500 billion, or more than the total cost of the Korean War and as much as 12 years in Vietnam.
The National Priorities Project, a nonprofit organization, calculates the impact of federal spending for the war at the local level. For example, taxpayers in Baltimore (pop. 651,000) spent $571 million on the war thus far. During this time, the number of murders in Baltimore has begun to rise, city public schools have closed due to funding cuts, and health care services for the poor have been reduced. The Baltimore Sun reports that drug addiction is increasing in the city, and job training programs are being cut.
New York City (pop. 8,000,000) taxpayers have spent $14 billion on the first four years of the war. Miami (pop. 362,000) taxpayers have spent $317 million, and Corvallis, Oregon (pop. 49,000) $42 million. The City of Minneapolis (pop. 383,000) passed an antiwar resolution which reads: “The funds spent by Minneapolis taxpayers on the war and occupation in Iraq equal more than $569 million and could have provided enough money for 47,000 children to utilize Head Start [preschool for poor children] for one year; or more than 322,000 children to have a year's worth of health insurance; or more than 26,000 four-year college scholarships at public universities.”
In 2005, Binghamton, New York, a conservative city of 47,000, became one of the first American cities to pass a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. The resolution was debated at two lengthy and contentious City Council meetings before passing in a 5-4 decision.
At a March 2006 rally to mark the third anniversary of the war in Iraq, Binghamton Mayor Matthew T. Ryan explained, “As a citizen, I have an obligation to question and challenge our nation’s policy of pre-emptive aggression. As Mayor of Binghamton, I have an obligation to address the needs of our community, and I am participating in this rally to let our federal representatives know that it is wrong to divert billions of tax dollars to a dubious war overseas when our domestic needs are so great.”
In April 2007, Ferndale, Michigan (pop. 22,000) became one of the latest cities to pass an antiwar resolution. Ferndale City Councilman Scott Galloway said of the resolution, “It’s all about setting priorities. The war is not a good way to spend our money, relative to all of our other needs. If we weren’t at war with Iraq, there’d be a lot more money to go around for different programs.”
Local vision and national change
City Commissioner Dave Coleman of Butte, Montana (35,000) says of the growing number of city antiwar resolutions, “This is about starting a discussion… We [cities] can’t dictate what the federal government does. The only means we have available to us is to take it back through the democratic process.”
With the ultimate cost of the war estimated to reach $1 trillion or more and growing public unrest, American mayors and cities will surely step up their grassroots efforts to pressure the federal government to end the war.
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