WASHINGTON (AP) – One of Congress’s most hawkish Democrats called yesterday 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.

Andrew Skidmore
Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) gestures during a Capitol Hill news conference yesterday to discuss the Iraq War. Murtha, an influential Democrat who voted for the Iraq war, called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.

“It’s time to bring them home,” said Rep. John Murtha, a decorated Korean War and 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 yesterday 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.

Yesterday’s rhetorical dueling came in a week that had already seen Bush and other top administration officials lash out at war critics, who they say 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.

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.

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