WASHINGTON — President Bush's plan to send additional troops to Iraq is facing public opposition from a slice of the American population that rarely speaks out: the military rank and file.
A group of service members came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday armed with signatures from more than 1,000 military personnel who oppose the war.
"We will not be silent while thousands die," said Sgt. Liam Madden, a 22-year-old active-duty Marine and Iraq war veteran who is helping lead the effort to organize resistance to the war from inside the military.
Madden and other service members leading the campaign, which they are calling Appeal for Redress, urged Congress to stop the troop escalation and find a way to begin bringing forces home from Iraq.
When the campaign began three months ago, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow dismissed the first signatories as "65 people who are going to be able to get more press than the hundreds of thousands who have come back and said they're proud of their service."
The 1,000 signatories still represent a tiny fraction of the military personnel who have served in and around Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
But according to the group, those who have signed the appeal include about 100 officers. Approximately 70% of the signatories are active-duty military, while the rest are reservists or members of the National Guard, said Madden, who added that the group would not reveal the names of the signatories to protect them.
The Appeal for Redress reads simply: "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. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home."
Madden and other leaders of the campaign arrived on Capitol Hill as members of Congress moved closer to challenging Bush's plans to send 21,500 more troops to Baghdad and Al Anbar province.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said senators plan to introduce a resolution opposing the plan today or Thursday, with a vote planned for next week after the president's State of the Union speech Tuesday.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said a House vote on a resolution would soon follow.
Democrats also announced Tuesday that newly elected Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a pugnacious war critic whose son has served in Iraq, would deliver the party's response to the State of the Union.
Today, a group of antiwar members of the House, led by California Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), plan to introduce legislation outlining a detailed plan to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq over the next six months.
The servicemen who came to Capitol Hill were greeted Tuesday by other newly energized antiwar lawmakers, including Reps. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).
They were also joined by the antiwar group Military Families Speak Out, which says it has more than 3,200 members.
And drawing a deliberate link to another controversial war, a group of Vietnam veterans, several in green jungle camouflage jackets, also stood with the current military members outside the Cannon House Office Building across the street from the Capitol.
"The movement in the military is growing just as the movement grew in the military 30 years ago," said David Cline, president of Veterans for Peace, a St. Louis-based group founded more than two decades ago.
Madden and other members of the Iraq war opposition have been careful to avoid the more extreme actions of some of their antiwar forebears who openly challenged their officers in Vietnam.
But they have said they were inspired by how soldiers helped build public opposition to the war in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
"If the war is to end, there needs to be a movement from within the military that is heard from," Madden said Tuesday.