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INSIDE POLITICS

Sheehan leaves antiwar camp

'Peace Mom' returns to California to be with ailing mother

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Iraq
George W. Bush

CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- The mother of a slain soldier who has camped outside President Bush's ranch for nearly two weeks to protest the war in Iraq left Thursday to tend to her ill mother.

Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq in April last year, said her 74-year-old mother suffered a stroke. Sheehan said she and her sister were going to Los Angeles "to assess the situation" but that her supporters will continue her protest outside Bush's Texas home.

"If I can, I'll be back. If I can't, I won't be back. But I will be back as soon as possible," Sheehan told reporters outside "Camp Casey," the protest site named for her son.

Sheehan is among the leaders of Gold Star Families for Peace, a group founded by relatives of troops killed in the two-year-old war. Sheehan has stated on the group's Web site that she wants all the U.S. troops brought back from Iraq "immediately." She has kept vigil outside Bush's ranch since August 6 in hopes of meeting with him.

The Californian says she wants to ask the president what her son -- an Army mechanic who was killed in Baghdad -- died to achieve.

Nearly 100 supporters joined Sheehan on Thursday at the Crawford protest. At one point, a group of Gold Star mothers marched about 4 miles to a police checkpoint outside of Bush's ranch and delivered about 200 letters.

"It was a privilege to accept the letters on behalf of the president and Mrs. Bush," a White House official said. "Every letter will receive a response."

Sheehan's vigil also has drawn occasional counter-protests by Bush supporters, including a caravan organized by the conservative group Move America Forward that plans to arrive in Crawford by late next week.

Sheehan, meanwhile, has drawn support from the liberal group MoveOn.org, an antiwar veterans group, and Ben Cohen, a founder of Ben and Jerry's ice cream.

Bush met with Sheehan after her son's death, and the White House said the president has no plans to meet with her again. Bush said last week that withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq now would send "a terrible signal" to the insurgents battling U.S. troops.

Recent polls show a sharp drop in support for the war. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken earlier this month found that 54 percent of people surveyed thought the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a mistake.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska and Vietnam war veteran who has been critical of Bush's handling of the war, said Thursday that Sheehan "deserves some consideration, and I think that should have been done right from the beginning."

"I think the wise course of action, the compassionate course of action, the better course of action would have been to immediately invite her in to the ranch," Hagel told CNN.

"It should have been done when this whole thing started. Listen to her."

Personal setbacks

The illness of Sheehan's mother is the second personal setback Sheehan has suffered since the protest began. Her husband of 28 years filed for divorce last week, citing "irreconcilable differences."

Sheehan told reporters Tuesday that she and her husband, Patrick, decided to divorce before she came to Crawford and that he supports her efforts.

Her departure came amid preparations to move to a spot closer to Bush's property, where the president is in the middle of a five-week vacation. A sympathetic neighbor volunteered the use of his land after the president's neighbors complained about sanitation and traffic problems. (Full story)

Supporters, counter-demonstrators and media have clogged the area's roads and angered some residents in Crawford, a town of about 700 people near Waco.

A Waco man was charged with felony criminal mischief Tuesday after police said he drove a pickup truck through a makeshift memorial for the 1,800-plus Americans killed in the Iraqi conflict.

CNN's Dana Bash and Jason Meucci contributed to this report.

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