WASHINGTON, Oct 25 (Reuters) More than 200 active duty US armed service members, fed up with the war in Iraq, have joined an unusual protest calling for withdrawal of US troops from the country, organisers said today.
The campaign, called the Appeal for Redress from the War in Iraq, is the first of its kind in the Iraq war and takes advantage of Defense Department rules allowing active duty troops to express personal opinions to members of Congress without fear of retaliation, organisers said.
''As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq,'' states the appeal posted on the campaign's Web site at www.appealforredress.org.
''Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for US troops to come home,'' it adds.
The Web site allows service members to sign the appeal that will be presented to members of Congress. Organisers said the number of signatories has climbed from 65 to 219 since the appeal was posted a few days ago and today when it was publicly launched. There are 140,000 US troops in Iraq.
Active duty service members are restricted in expressing personal views publicly. But rules governed by the Military Whistleblower Protection Act give them the right to speak to a member of Congress respectfully while off-duty and out of uniform, making clear they do not speak for the military.
In a conference call with reporters, a sailor, a Marine and a soldier who had served in the Iraq operation said American troops there have increasingly had difficulty seeing the purpose of lengthy and repeated tours of duty since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Their misgivings have intensified this year as the country has edged toward civil war, they said.
''The real grievances are: Why are we in Iraq if the weapons of mass destruction are not found, if the links to al Qaeda are not substantiated,'' said Marine Sgt. Liam Madden of Rockingham, Vermont, who was in Iraq from September 2004 to February 2005 and is based at Quantico, Virginia.
''The occupation is perpetuating more violence,'' he said. ''It's costing way too many Iraqi civilian and American service member lives while it brings us no benefit.'' The campaign's sponsoring committee includes the activist groups Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out.
Navy Seaman Jonathan Hutto of Atlanta, stationed at Norfolk, Virginia and the first service member to join the campaign, said a similar appeal during the Vietnam War drew support from over 250,000 active duty service members in the early 1970s.
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