Washington One of Congress' most hawkish 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 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.
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.
"It would be an absolute mistake and a real insult to the lives that have been lost," said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif.
Just two days earlier, the GOP-controlled Senate defeated a Democratic push to force Bush to lay out a timetable for withdrawal. Spotlighting mushrooming questions from both parties about the war, though, the chamber 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.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stopped short of endorsing Murtha's position, even though he's one of her close advisers. Her counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Harry Reid, of Nevada, said, "I favor what the Senate did," referring to the statement the Senate adopted.
Seldom overtly political, 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. 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," Murtha said.
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.
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, only a few years longer than he's been in Congress. Elected in 1974, Murtha has become known as an authority on national security whose advice was sought by Republican and Democratic administrations alike.
Murtha's shift from an early war backer to a critic advocating withdrawal reflects plummeting public support for a war that has cost more than $200 billion and led to the deaths of more than 2,000 U.S. troops.