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Montana call for Iraq troop return sparks debate
12 Mar 2005 00:59:16 GMT
By Laura Zuckerman
SULA, Mont., March 11 (Reuters) - Montana's Democratic governor has touched off a political fight with state Republicans after calling for the return of National Guard troops serving in Iraq to help out during what many fear will be a record-setting wildfire season.
Newly elected Gov. Brian Schweitzer infuriated Republican lawmakers -- the minority party in state government for the first time in more than a decade -- who see his request as a back-door way to criticize the Bush administration over Iraq.
"He's figured out how to use the wildfire season to protest the Iraq war," said Senate Minority Leader Bob Keenan said on Tuesday. "It's an anti-war statement and condemnation of Bush's actions."
The governor and his supporters deny those charges in a growing political battle that comes as weather experts say a seven-year drought and a severely reduced snowpack could lead to a devastating summer of wildfires.
They also worry that limited resources stretched thinner by National Guardsmen serving overseas could make it difficult to combat the kind of massive blazes that engulfed the state in 2000 when some 2,400 wildfires torched nearly 950,000 acres of mostly public land.