Bentley: 'What they're offering is full of baloney' *Members of Congress eye Iraq's 'first step' toward possible peace but reject conditions. PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN


Three Maryland members of Congress reacted cautiously to Iraq's withdrawal proposal, saying that it might be a step toward peace but that Iraq's conditions are unacceptable.

Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd, termed today's proposal a diplomatic "beginner" but warned against acceptance of anything short of Iraq's "unconditional surrender."

Referring to Iraq's list of conditions, she said, "I think what they're offering is full of baloney."

"I want our boys to get back as soon as they can, safely, but I don't want to give in to this guy," she said, referring to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Bentley also said she would not apologize for the deaths of civilians killed this week in American bombing of what Iraq reported was a civil defense shelter and the Bush administration said was a military facility.

"All of these people are apologizing," she said. "I'm sorry, civilians will get hurt in a war. But I'm not going to apologize for that. What is the media hype on that?"

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st, said, "It looks like the first step toward a settlement."

"I'm really hopeful, mainly because we could possibly avoid a ground war," said Gilchrest, a Vietnam War veteran.

But, he added, "I think their terms, from what I can understand, are a little ridiculous . . . I think there should be no terms attached to their withdrawal other than that he [Saddam] withdraws. Then we'll talk after that."

As some other lawmakers, Rep. Constance Morella, R-8th, was encouraged by the initial reports out of Baghdad, which didn't spell out withdrawal conditions. But as the conditions became known, early optimism yielded to caution and even pessimism.

"When I first heard it early this morning, I was very excited," Morella said. "But as more and more of this unfolds it appears to be a propaganda ploy."

"There seem to be so many conditions attached to this statement that are [contrary to] United Nations resolution 660 I think we have to proceed cautiously," she said, referring to U.N. conditions for an unconditional Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

Morella speculated that the Iraqi proposal may reflect Saddam's recognition that the war is not going well for Iraq.

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