CRAWFORD, Texas – Cindy Sheehan returned Wednesday to the anti-war camp named for her late son Casey, as critics and backers of President Bush’s Iraq policy prepared for a weekend of competing demonstrations.

Sheehan, who had been in California to care for her ill mother, said in a blog for The Huffington Post that she wants to ask Bush: “What is the noble cause that he says my son died for?”

Camp Casey, which has two outposts near Bush’s ranch, has inspired counter-demonstrators who have trickled into the area; a pro-Bush caravan that began in northern California has a Crawford rally scheduled Saturday.

Bush also returned to Crawford, following a three-day trip to the West designed to bolster support for the Iraq war.

Speaking to National Guard members and their families in Idaho, Bush spotlighted another war family: Tammy Pruett, whose husband and five sons have served in Iraq.

“America lives in freedom because of families like the Pruetts,” said Bush, who later met privately with members of other families.

The rising U.S. death toll in Iraq has put Bush’s public standing at new lows. A poll this week from the American Research Group gave Bush a lowest-ever approval rating of 36 percent; a new Harris Poll put him at 40 percent.

Harris also said the war in Iraq has climbed to the top of the most important issues list and the economy is the second most important issue among those surveyed.

Anti-war families who support Camp Casey issued a statement saying the president should meet with Sheehan and other relatives of casualties who oppose the war.

“Many of our families have paid the ultimate price for your administration’s lies leading up to the war in Iraq,” said the statement from the Crawford Gold Star Moms.

Sheehan returned to Texas along with the wife of another soldier killed in Iraq. They and other protestors have a series of public events in the days ahead.

On Thursday, Sheehan will place her son’s boots next to a cross bearing his name.

War opponents who have migrated to the camp said their movement is growing well beyond Sheehan, reaching Middle America.

“This is not about Cindy – she was the spark,” said Mishka Chudilowsky, a retired math teacher and self-described activist from Monterey, Calif. “This is the flame.”

On the other side, a conservative organization called Move America Forward organized the pro-Bush caravan that began Monday at a radio station in San Francisco. Its rally is scheduled Saturday.

Some war supporters have already made their way to Crawford. Parrish Stevens, a security contractor in Kuwait, said he came to Texas from his home base in Indiana. He dismissed the protestors.

“It’s just a bunch of people who still think the “60s are cool,” Stevens said.

(c) 2005, The Dallas Morning News.

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