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Mideast edition, Friday, May 11, 2007

WASHINGTON — Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Wednesday presented Capitol Hill lawmakers with an appeal from more than 2,700 troops urging Congress to drop plans for withdrawal from Iraq.

The “Appeal for Courage” has been collecting signatures since February, with the goal of lobbying lawmakers to back off plans for withdrawal timetables or funding caveats.

Organizer Lt. Jason Nichols, a 33-year-old naval projects officer who has been in Baghdad since mid-January, said he has been pleased with the response.

“This really provides an objective look at how a lot of the troops feel,” he said. “We’re happy to get that message to Congress.”

The appeal — available at www.appealforcourage.org — calls for Congress “to fully support our mission in Iraq and halt any calls for retreat.”

It labels the fight in Iraq a “necessary and just effort to bring freedom to the Middle East” and also asks lawmakers to actively oppose any moves “which embolden my enemy while demoralizing American support at home.”

In December a group of active-duty troops presented Congress with a similar “Appeal for Redress” with more than 1,000 signatures calling for an end to operations in Iraq, saying that military operations “will not work.”

Defense department rules limit active-duty personnel from participating in certain protests and circulating petitions, but do allow servicemembers to directly appeal to lawmakers to air their complaints.

Organizers of the anti-withdrawal group say about 60 percent of their signers have deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East, and nearly a third are E-5s and E-6s.

“We’re definitely happy with that response, and we plan on continuing to collect names,” Nichols said.

In accepting the appeal, House minority leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, called Democrats in Congress “reckless” for recent plans to tie war funding to troop withdrawals.

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