Protesters seek troop pullout

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LEWISTON – A dozen people gathered in front of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ Lisbon Street office Thursday to pressure the senator to back legislation that would set a firm date for the pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq.

So far, Collins’ efforts have been “toothless,” said Arthur Whitman of Auburn.

“Mainers have not seen any progress,” said Whitman, a veteran of World War II. “I’m more fearful than I was yesterday.”

Collins and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, both Maine Republicans, have been in the middle of a Senate debate this week on the war. Both have backed bills that call for a change in strategy in Iraq.

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However, not all bills are the same, said Justin Costa, the organizer of Thursday’s protest and the Maine director of Americans Against Escalation in Iraq.

Snowe has co-sponsored an amendment that would force the pullout of most U.S. troops by April 2008.

“We cannot continue to keep our brave military men and women on the front lines if the Iraqi government is unwilling to put national interests above their own sectarian interests,” Snowe said Wednesday in a prepared statement.

Collins supports a bill that would change the strategy in Iraq and re-deploy troops to “fighting terrorism, securing Iraq’s borders, and training Iraq forces” by the end of March 2008.

President Bush has vowed to veto any legislation that includes an Iraq timeline.

But the talk must continue, Costa said.

His group hand-delivered an invitation to Collins’ office, asking her to attend a town meeting-style gathering on Aug. 28. The group hoped to get all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation at the meeting.

Collins has already said no.

“Our office will decline this invitation. Sen. Collins meets regularly with her constituents to discuss the war in Iraq and she will continue to do so,” spokeswoman Jen Burita said Thursday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, Costa dismissed the call of another protester to impeach Bush. “This is a narrowly focused campaign aimed at ending the war,” he said.

Holding a sign that read “Keep ’em safe, Bring ’em home,” protester Jim Lysen condemned the war as an occupation, saying the costs have prevented the government from tackling many pressing domestic issues, including education and the environment.

As he stood there, passersby honked and shouted their support. One man laughed as he drove past.

But Whitman, reading from a prepared speech, remained sober.

He said he’d been against the war “from day one.”

“The objective was not clarified, the planning was not developed and war funding was not in place,” Whitman said. “The neo-cons and, evidently, the president thought the war would be a slam-dunk. It would be over in a week.”

Instead, it’s “never-ending,” he said.

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