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Talk of military draft heating up

WASHINGTON -- The United States' uneven record in Iraq has kindled a small but persistent push to reinstitute the military draft, a politically charged idea that hasn't been seriously considered since the end of the Vietnam War.

Yet despite denials from the White House that a draft is under consideration, and despite the obvious political fallout of such a move during an election campaign, talk of a draft has heated up in recent days.

Asked last week if the president is considering reinstituting the draft, press secretary Scott McClellan gave a quick and emphatic answer. "No," he said, moving to the next question.

But military observers and some members of Congress say that the notion of a possible military draft is gaining traction, in part because of questions from Democrats in Congress about the conduct of the Iraqi reconstruction, from retired military officers who are worried that the force is too small to accomplish such a big and difficult job -- and because of the administration itself.

The Defense Department fueled the debate last week when it placed a notice on its Web site asking for "men and women in the community who might be willing to serve as members of a local draft board."

The notice, which appeared on an official Web page for the Selective Service System titled "Defend America," explained: "If a military draft becomes necessary, approximately 2,000 Local and Appeal Boards throughout America would decide which young men, who submit a claim, receive deferments, postponements or exemptions from military service, based on Federal guidelines. Positions are available in many communities across the nation."

The Pentagon wouldn't comment on the notice, and by Friday it had been pulled from the Web site without explanation.

Federal officials, falling in line behind Bush and his official position, say there are no specific plans to bring back the draft but it's prudent to have the plans and some of the people in place if it becomes necessary.


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