Hawkish Democrat Calls for Iraq Pullout
Hawkish Democrat Calls for Iraq Pullout
By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 1
WASHINGTON - An influential House Democrat who voted
Iraq war called Thursday for the immediate withdrawal
of U.S. troops from Iraq, another sign of growing
unease in Congress about the conflict.
"It is time for a change in direction," said Rep. John
Murtha, D-Pa., one of Congress' most hawkish
Democrats. "Our military is suffering, the future of
our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the
present course. It is evident that continued military
action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the
United States of America, the Iraqi people or the
Persian Gulf region."
House Republicans assailed Murtha's position as one of
abandonment and surrender, and accused Democrats of
playing politics with the war. "They want us to
retreat. They want us to wave the white flag of
surrender to the terrorists of the world," Speaker
Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said in a statement.
Murtha estimated that all U.S. troops could be pulled
out within six months. A decorated Vietnam veteran, he
choked back tears during his remarks to reporters.
Murtha's comments came just two days after the Senate
voted to approve a statement that 2006 "should be a
period of significant transition to full Iraqi
sovereignty" to create the conditions for the phased
withdrawal of U.S. forces.
In recent days, President Bush and other top
administration officials have lashed out at critics of
the war and have accused Democrats of advocating a
"cut and run" strategy that will only embolden the
Vice President Dick Cheney jumped into the fray
Wednesday by assailing Democrats who contend the Bush
administration manipulated intelligence on Iraq,
calling their criticism "one of the most dishonest and
reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."
Murtha, a Marine intelligence officer in Vietnam,
angrily shot back at Cheney: "I like guys who've never
been there that criticize us who've been there. 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."
Referring to Bush, Murtha added: "I resent the fact,
on Veterans Day, he criticized Democrats for
The top Democrat on the House Appropriations defense
subcommittee, Murtha has earned bipartisan respect for
his grasp of military issues over three decades in
Congress. He planned to introduce a resolution
Thursday that, if passed by both the House and the
Senate, would force the president to withdraw U.S.
Murtha could not say whether his caucus supports his
position. And, although he is a close adviser to House
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., she was absent
from his news conference.
Later Thursday, Pelosi said she supported his position
that the president's policy is not working and must be
changed but she stopped short of endorsing his call
for immediate withdrawal. "Mr. Murtha speaks for
himself very eloquently and the district he
represents," Pelosi said.
For months, Pelosi has pushed for the Bush
administration to outline an exit strategy, although
she has stopped short of calling for an immediate
troop pullout. Some Senate Democrats have called for
an immediate or phased withdrawal.
Murtha voted to give the president authority to use
Saddam Hussein in 2002 but in recent months has grown
increasingly troubled with the direction of the war
and with the Bush administration's handling of it.
"The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a
flawed policy wrapped in illusion," Murtha said.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, said Murtha's call for
withdrawal was "reprehensible and irresponsible."
"It shows the Democratic Party has chosen a policy of
retreat and defeatism which will only encourage the
terrorists and threaten the stability of Iraq,"
First elected to Congress in 1974, Murtha is known as
an ally of uniformed officers in the Pentagon and on
the battlefield. The perception on Capitol Hill is
that when the congressman makes a statement on
military issues, he's talking for those in uniform.
Known to shun publicity, Murtha said he was standing
up because he had a constitutional and moral
obligation to speak for the troops.
His voice cracked and tears filled his eyes as he
related several stories of visiting wounded troops,
including one who was blinded and lost both his hands
but had been denied a Purple Heart because friendly
fire caused his injuries.
"I met with the commandant. I said, 'If you don't give
him a Purple Heart, I'll give him one of mine.' And
they gave him a Purple Heart," said Murtha, who has two.