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Hahn Signs Students’ Petition Calling War on Iraq ‘Unjust’

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn’s visit to a middle school Monday to talk to young people about Iraq ended with Hahn signing a student petition decrying the war as “unjust,” and with veterans questioning the mayor’s patriotism.

“If he feels this war is unjust, he’s not an American,” said Ted Mrowicki, a World War II veteran who is commander of American Legion Post 817 in Van Nuys. “Our soldiers are getting killed and he says this?”

Veteran Wally Howard was also angry. “He’s 100% wrong,” said the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2323 in Granada Hills.

Not long after his trip to Florence Nightingale Middle School in Cypress Park, Hahn was trying to clarify his position.

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He praised the students for expressing their opinions, but added that he supports American soldiers in Iraq, even as he questions the decision to go to war.

“We are very supportive of our troops in Iraq,” Hahn told reporters after meeting with the students. “There is a difference between being supportive of our troops and saying we think this is a wonderful idea.”

The petition, circulated by a sixth-grade class and signed by 700 students, parents and neighbors of the school, declares signatories to be against the war and eager for President Bush to know their feelings. “The war is unjust,” the petition says. “Many innocent people of Iraq as well as American lives will be lost.”

Hahn was put in an awkward spot when one student asked him to sign the petition in front of 30 other students, just after the mayor praised the 11- and 12-year olds for speaking their minds. Before the invasion, the mayor signed a City Council resolution that opposed combat without United Nations support, but he had not previously gone so far as to call the war unjust.

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Asked to elaborate on his position after the school visit, Hahn told reporters that Saddam Hussein is a “terrible” human being. “He should be removed from power. The question I think many American people have is that, ‘Is this war necessary?’ ”

Asked about polls showing that most Americans support Bush’s decision to go to war, Hahn said many Americans are “confused.” “Many Americans have indicated they believe Iraq is behind Sept. 11, although that evidence has not yet been developed,” he said. “As we hear about our men and women losing their lives in this war, the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘Was there an alternative?’ ”

Hahn said it is important for children to have a way to talk about anxieties associated with the war, and the students in the math and science magnet class that he had attended had plenty to say.

“Are our schools ready for a biological attack?” one student asked.

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“Is there going to be enough money for schools because of the bombs being dropped?” asked another.

“Do you think, if we keep on protesting against the war, that it will end?” asked a third.

In answer, Hahn told the students that the city has plans to deal with terrorism and that there have been no specific threats. He said that schools are primarily funded by the state, which is not financing the bombs but could indirectly be hurt by federal war spending. And the mayor said it is important for government leaders to hear what students think about the war.

It was a busy day for Hahn, who also briefed 75 members of the consular corps in Los Angeles on city security measures and held a City Hall news conference with members of the Islamic community and city Human Relations Commission to say there will be no tolerance of hate crime.

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