5th District DFLers debate the details of Iraq war

Mike Erlandson
Mike Erlandson, one of the DFL candidates for Congress in Minnesota's 5th District, was endorsed Thursday by U.S. Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, one of Congress' leading opponents of the war in Iraq.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Let's be clear. The four main DFLers running for Congress in Minnesota's 5th really don't disagree much over the war in Iraq. They all want U.S. troops gone from Iraq; they differ over who has the best plan for doing so in in the quickest and safest possible way.

Ellison at the fair
DFL Congressional candidate Keith Ellison at the state fair Thursday.
MPR Photo/Marisa Helms

Mike Erlandson says he's backing U.S. Rep. John Murtha's plan. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, is calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq at the earliest practicable date. He also wants a quick strike force in the region to handle any flare-ups in violence.

Murtha was not present at Erlandson's news conference, but the campaign issued Murtha's endorsement letter.

Erlandson also used the event to criticize two of his main opponents, Keith Ellison and Ember Reichgott Junge. Erlandson criticized Reichgott Junge for calling on Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to resign -- two years after Democrats in Congress took the same stand. He criticized Ellison for calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops from the region, without having a serious plan in place.

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"If we don't have a clear path and don't put the kind of things in place that John Murtha is proposing, having people stand up and say nothing more than soundbites, I believe, makes the situation in Iraq more dangerous," said Erlandson.

Ember Reichgott Junge
DFL candidate Ember Reichgott Junge says much of Mike Erlandson's campaign support is coming from Washington D.C., where he is known because of his job as chief of staff to retiring Rep. Marin Sabo.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Erlandson's criticism came on the same day that campaign finance reports showed him lagging Reichgott Junge and Ellison in fundraising for the latest reporting period.

Ellison, a state legislator who has the DFL endorsement, says he's the candidate who has been the most vocal critic of the war,for the longest period of time. He says Erlandson is only now making Iraq an issue because Washington consultants are telling him voters in the 5th are against the war.

Ellison insists that an immediate troop withdrawal combined with diplomatic negotiations can work.

"We need to engage the sectarian forces in Iraq and the nations in the region diplomatically. This has been a consistent position of mine," said Ellison. "We need to use a multilateral approach, and use the U.N., and get people to the table. It's very clear at this point that a military solution is not going to get this situation solved."

For her part, Reichgott Junge says she supports a plan that requires all U.S. troops out of Iraq within a year. She says an international peacekeeping force, which could include U.S. troops, should replace the U.S. armed forces in Iraq.

Paul Ostrow
Minneapolis city councilmember Paul Ostrow is one of several DFLers running for the 5th Congressional District seat.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Reichgott Junge also dismissed Murtha's endorsement of Erlandson. She said most of Erlandson's support is coming from outside Minnesota, and is based on Erlandson's service as chief of staff to retiring Rep. Martin Sabo.

"Much of his support has come from Washington and come from colleagues of Congressman Sabo. That shouldn't surprise anyone. I think what's important is that the people of the 5th District are supporting me," said Reichgott Junge.

Paul Ostrow, a member of the Minneapolis City Council, is also calling for a troop withdrawal but doesn't want to set a firm deadline. He says he wants to separate Iraq into three regions with a limited central government in Baghdad. Ostrow says the details should be worked out by Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite leaders in that country.

"We, at this point, need to acknowledge that there is little if any likelihood of a unified, western-style democracy in Iraq. All of the evidence points to the fact that that is not the likely outcome, and not one that is achievable," Ostrow said.

There are three other DFLers running in the Sept. 12 primary. They are Patrick Wiles, Andrew Vincent Favorite and Gregg Iverson.

Whoever wins the primary will face Republican Alan Fine, Independence Party member Tammy Lee and Green Party candidate Jay Pond in the November election.