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Iraq

Pro-war Democrat changes mind

"It's time to bring them home," says Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania in calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

By Associated Press
Published November 18, 2005

WASHINGTON - One of Congress' most hawkish and influential Democrats called Thursday for an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, sparking bitter and personal salvos from both sides in a growing Capitol Hill uproar over President Bush's war policies.

"It's time to bring them home," said Rep. John Murtha, a decorated Vietnam War combat veteran, choking back tears during remarks to reporters. "Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty."

The comments by the Pennsylvania lawmaker, who has spent three decades in the House, hold particular weight because he is close to many military commanders and has enormous credibility with his colleagues on defense issues. He voted for the war in 2002, and remains the top Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

"Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces and we have become a catalyst for violence," he said. "The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion."

In a biting response, Republicans criticized Murtha's position as one of abandonment and surrender and accused Democrats of playing politics with the war and recklessly pushing a "cut and run" strategy.

"They want us to retreat. They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

Murtha uncharacteristically responded to Vice President Dick Cheney's comments this week that Democrats were spouting "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges" about the Bush administration's use of intelligence before the war.

"I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there," said Murtha, a former Marine. "I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

The White House fired back from South Korea, where Bush was meeting with Asian leaders.

"Congressman Murtha is a respected veteran and politician who has a record of supporting a strong America," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan. "So it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party."

Murtha once worked closely with the vice president when Cheney was defense secretary. During Vietnam, Bush served stateside in the National Guard while Cheney's five deferments kept him out of the service entirely.

Just two days earlier, the GOP-controlled Senate defeated a Democratic push for Bush to lay out a timetable for withdrawal. Spotlighting mushrooming questions from both parties about the war, though, the chamber then approved a statement that 2006 should be a significant year in which conditions are created for the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Murtha estimated that all U.S. troops could be pulled out within six months. He introduced a resolution Thursday that would force the president to call back the military, but it was unclear when, or if, either GOP-run chamber of Congress would vote on it.

On the Senate floor Thursday, Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called on President Bush and the White House to stop what he called an orchestrated attack campaign.

"It's a weak, spineless display of politics at a time of war," said Reid, who spoke while Bush was in Asia.

The rhetorical dueling came in a week in which Bush and other top administration officials lashed out at war critics, saying they advocate a strategy that will only embolden the insurgency.

Some Senate Democrats have already laid out plans for bringing home U.S. troops. Other House Democrats have called for the military to pull out, but none has Murtha's clout on military issues.

With a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, Murtha retired from the Marine Corps reserves as a colonel in 1990 after 37 years as a Marine.

His shift from an early war backer to a critic advocating withdrawal reflects plummeting public support for the war. Known as a friend and champion of officers at the Pentagon and in the war zone, it is widely believed in Congress that Murtha often speaks for those in uniform and could be echoing what U.S. commanders in the field and in the Pentagon are saying privately about the conflict.

But Republicans said Murtha does not represent the views of U.S. troops or military leaders.

"This falloff of support among Democratic ranks is not shared by the war-fighting forces. It's not shared by our troops," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

[Last modified November 18, 2005, 01:29:09]


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