"WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Warning that other global threats "cannot be ignored," Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, a leading adviser on defense issues, called Thursday for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
"U.S. and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq," the senior lawmaker said. "It's time for a change in direction.
"He said he believes all the forces could be redeployed over a six-month period.
Murtha, a former Marine Corps colonel and veteran of the Vietnam war, is the first senior lawmaker to call for an immediate withdrawal. Other critics of the war have asked President Bush to set up a timetable for withdrawal. GOP lawmaker: Withdrawal 'a mistake'Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, blasted Murtha for his comments.
"I am saddened by the comments made today by Rep. Murtha," Hastert said in a statement. "It is clear that as [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi's top lieutenant on armed services, Rep. Murtha and Democratic leaders have adopted a policy of cut-and-run. They would prefer that the United States surrender to the terrorists who would harm innocent Americans.
"Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, described calls for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq "a mistake," arguing that leaving Iraq would make it appear that America cannot sustain prolonged military operations."I just wanted to remind our friends that now is the time for endurance," Hunter said. "Right now, in Iraq, we are changing the world. ... We're changing a very strategic part of the world in such a way that it will not be a threat to the United States and, in fact, will be an ally in the global war against terror.
"A respected voiceMurtha's call for a withdrawal, however, could have a significant impact on the debate over the future of the Iraq war, as both Democrats and Republicans seek his advice on military and veterans' issues."A man of stature of John Murtha -- that's a pretty heavy hit, I don't mind telling you," said North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones, sponsor of the House resolution that calls for a timetable for withdrawal. "He ... gives a lot of weight to this debate." Jones said he thinks this will make "some Republicans think about their responsibility as relates to the war in Iraq" and that "this is a week that will help further the debate -- ignite the debate."Another Democrat who voted for the war, Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee, said he had heard of Murtha's comments and wouldn't endorse his call for immediate withdrawal.But, Ford said, "It a powerful statement coming from arguably the most respected voice in the Congress," and it will be hard for the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney to dismiss these comments as easily as other Democratic criticisms on the war. Presence 'uniting enemy against us'Murtha, who has served in the House for over three decades, is the senior Democrat and former chairman of the Defense Appropriations Committee and voted in favor of the Iraq war. Now, he said, the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq are "uniting the enemy against us.""Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty," he said. "Our military captured Saddam Hussein, captured or killed his closest associates, but the war continues to intensify."He said the redeployment will give Iraqis the incentive to take control of their country.The statement comes amid increasingly heated debate over the Iraq war and the intelligence leading up to the March 2003 invasion. A recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll also found the public increasingly dissatisfied with the Iraq war. The poll, released Monday, found that 60 percent of Americans said the war was not worth fighting, while 38 percent said it was worthwhile. (Full story) Monday's poll found that 19 percent of Americans want to see the troops come home now and 33 percent said they wanted them home within a year. Only 38 percent said they should remain "as long as needed." On Tuesday, the Senate also voted 79-19 for an amendment that called for progress reports on the Iraq war every 90 days. The amendment's purpose was "to clarify and recommend changes" to U.S. policy in Iraq. The vote was seen as a reflection of the increasing bipartisan dissatisfaction over the war's progress.On Wednesday, Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed Democratic critics, calling allegations that the administration misled the country as "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city." (Full story)Murtha took issue with the administration's counter-criticism, specifically President Bush's Veterans Day speech in which he said it is "deeply irresponsible to rewrite how that war began."'Flawed policy'"I resent the fact that on Veterans Day, they criticized Democrats for criticizing them," Murtha said. "This [the war] is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public knows it, and lashing out at critics doesn't help a bit. You've got to change the policy. That's what's going to help the American people. You need to change direction.
"Murtha -- who recently visited Iraq's Anbar province -- said it is Congress' responsibility to speak out for the "sons and daughters" on the battlefield, and relayed several emotional stories from soldiers recovering at Bethesda's Walter Reed Medical Center.
"I tell you, these young folks are under intense activity over there, I mean much more intense than Vietnam," he said. "You never know when it's going to happen."