- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Northern Virginia residents last night turned a town hall meeting in Alexandria with U.S. military representatives into a forum to vent opposition to a possible war in Iraq.
About 400 persons crammed the auditorium of the Minnie Howard School, while an additional 100 or so watched the event on a television monitor in the cafeteria.
The meeting was moderated by U.S. Rep. James P. Moran, who sits on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee and whose district includes Alexandria. Also on the stage were Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke and Maj. Gen. Kevin Kuklok, assistant deputy commandant for plans, policy and operations at the Marine Corps.
About a half-dozen Alexandria police officers carefully checked each person entering the auditorium.
The crowd was overwhelmingly against a war with Iraq and heckled Mrs. Clarke and Gen. Kuklok as they attempted to explain the imminent threat Iraq poses to the United States.
But Mrs. Clarke drew a smattering of applause when she asked rhetorically at what points the September 11 terrorist attacks seemed imminent. She repeatedly attempted to make the case that given his ties to terrorist networks, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein doesn't need ballistic missiles to pose a genuine threat to the United States.
"It's a very real and very grave threat we have to deal with," she said. "It's not easy, it's not comfortable, but we have to deal with it."
Mr. Moran, a Democrat, described Saddam as a "brutal dictator." He also said that he believed the Iraqi leader "does have chemical and biological weapons under his control." But Mr. Moran drew applause from the assembled crowd when he said that North Korea posed a more immediate threat with its nuclear weapons program.
Mr. Moran said correspondence received by his office runs about 69 percent against a war in Iraq. "I think it's probably a higher proportion than that in this room," he said with a laugh.
At any given time during the meeting, about a dozen people lined the two auditorium aisles waiting to air thoughts and questions on war. The town hall meeting was aired live on C-SPAN.
The first speaker was a Kurdish woman who lives in Burke and wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "no blood for oil." She recounted tales of rape and torture her people suffered at the hands of Saddam before concluding, "I am a Kurd, and I am against the war in Iraq."
Her comments, which included no questions for the panel, drew loud and sustained applause and set the tone for a series of speakers who emotionally vented concerns about the causes, the costs and the unintended consequences of war and who questioned what they described as inconsistent U.S. policy when dealing with Israel, China and Cuba.
Fatima Shabodien, 30, on a visit from South Africa, said she came to the meeting because she was "interested in hearing what's going on."
"I'm interested in hearing the other side of things," Miss Shabodien said. "I've been to antiwar rallies, but there are never politicians there." She said she was disappointed that she heard "nothing new" from government officials.
Theresa Alafita, 32, of Arlington came to the meeting with her husband and infant son, Isaac. She said she was there to let people know that there was opposition to such a war. She said she felt Mrs. Clarke and Gen. Kuklok's positions were cliches.
"I think the attempt to link this to September 11 is false. It's a means of playing on the sympathies of people," she said.
An Alexandria man, who identified himself only as Bill, surveyed the meeting from the auditorium lobby while waiting for a vacant seat. He said he came to listen and still had an "open mind" on the subject of war with Iraq.
"It reminds me of the '70s," he said.

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