(1st Add: Includes comments from Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission)
(CNSNews.com) - The anti-war group MoveOn launched a campaign on Thursday to highlight the cost of the Iraq war for individual congressional districts. MoveOn hopes the plan will motivate the districts' residents to petition their representatives to vote for a troop withdrawal.
"We've already spent $456 BILLION on the war so far," the group said in an e-mail encouraging members to attend one of the 150 planned rallies around the country. "We've learned that when we remind voters of the costs of the Iraq war -- and all the important priorities that we can't afford because of it -- they're more likely to push Congress to end the war quickly."
The group of liberal activists is encouraging its members to lobby their senators and representatives to pledge support for a troop withdrawal before they return to Washington, D.C., in September after the August recess.
One of the first orders of business when Congress resumes will be hearing a report on the status of the war from Gen. David Patraeus, commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq.
The localized reports on the cost of war were produced by MoveOn with data from the National Priorities Project, a non-profit group that analyzes federal taxing and spending data.
The group estimates the war has cost $456 billion, or $4,100 per American household. It says the same money could have been spent providing 48.6 million children with health coverage or building 45,800 elementary schools.
In the 8th Congressional District of Virginia, represented by Democrat Jim Moran, taxpayers have contributed $1.45 billion to the war effort.
According to MoveOn's analysis, the same amount could have funded health care for 401,126 people, 196,340 college scholarships or the federal contribution to the expansion of the area's Metrorail system to a nearby airport, a contentious issue in the area.
"As a resident of the 8th District, it just breaks my heart to think that there's three-quarter million kids that could have health insurance but for this pumping of billions of dollars into a religious civil war that we just can't win," Bob Platt, an attorney in Arlington, Va., and MoveOn member said during the MoveOn event in the 8th District.
"There are terrible tradeoffs being made, broken promises, failed policies that have gotten us to this point," he said. "We've got pressing priorities here at home. Instead of meeting them, this Bush administration is pouring resources into the Iraq quagmire.
"It's time for our elected officials to take a stand against this madness and to vote to bring our troops home," Platt added.
Platt said the estimates used by the National Priorities Project are "not a precise figure, but it's a best guess.: He added that "some people would say it's a low-ball estimate, yes."
When asked why the group is pressing for an end to the war before Patraeus's progress report in September, Platt said citizens needed to be mobilized while elected officials are in their home districts for the August recess.
"In terms of the financial costs of the war, which is what we're talking about today," he added, "all the figures are in, and there's really nothing that Patraeus would say one way or the other that would take away from the large financial impact of this war."
Supporters of the war effort, however, call MoveOn a "radically defeatist group" that is trying to "bully the American people into ending the mission just as it is showing significant signs of progress."
Merrilee Carlson, president of Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission, said in a statement that supporters of the war "must educate our fellow Americans about the need to continue the mission and the terrible price we will pay if we retreat now."
"Moveon.org will talk a lot about the money we are spending," Vets for Freedom Executive Director Pete Hegseth said in a statement. "But what they won?t discuss -- and what in truth they just don?t care about -- is the overwhelming cost of U.S. and Iraqi lives and security if we give up too soon and lose this war.
"As veterans of Iraq who have served on the ground, we understand the progress that is being made and we know the terrible price that America will pay if we were to pack up and leave without defeating al Qaeda," Carlson added.
The groups predicted that withdrawing from Iraq could result in a "bloodbath in Iraq" that could claim the lives of "hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi" civilians. They said it could result in a destabilized Middle East and a "safe haven for al Qaeda to plan future attacks against America and her allies."
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