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Emotional Democrat becomes latest symbol of gathering storm over Iraq

2005-11-18 07:41:00

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Emotional Democrat becomes latest symbol of gathering storm over Iraq
18:51:37 EST Nov 17, 2005
BETH GORHAM

WASHINGTON (CP) - The pressure on President George W. Bush over Iraq just keeps mounting as his popularity dips. Some Democrats are talking more about an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. Republicans want Iraqis to assume more control for security, though they're not seeking a definitive timetable for pulling out of a war that's increasingly unpopular with Americans.

And many are criticizing anew Bush's initial arguments for invading Iraq, prompting the president to fight aagain a battle he'd hoped was won in the 2004 election.

On Thursday, a respected Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives reversed his stalwart support for the war, calling it "a flawed policy wrapped in an illusion," as he made an emotional, outspoken pitch for the return of U.S. soldiers within six months.

Decorated Vietnam veteran John Murtha, who tearfully talked about visiting wounded troops, became the latest symbol of a gathering storm against Iraq as he blasted a recent White House election-style slugfest to counter critics of pre-war intelligence.

"The American public is way ahead of members of Congress," he said.

"It's time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering."

"The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course."

"I don't know that it's another Vietnam," Murtha, 73, later told CNN.

"But it's time to make a decision. We've become the enemy."

"There was no terror there before we went in," he said, noting violent incidents involving the U.S. military have increased from from 150 to 700 a week since the war started in March 2003.

Republicans, anxious about a war that's taken more than 2,000 U.S. lives, injured some 15,500 and already cost $200 billion, watched this week as Bush's approval rating dipped to a new low of 37 per cent and wondered anew about the war's impact on the 2006 congressional elections.

They demanded White House updates on Iraq every three months, particularly the progress of Iraqi forces in taking over security efforts.

They joined with Democrats on Tuesday to pass a resolution saying next year "should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty."

But the spirit of co-operation vanished Thursday in vehement condemnations of Murtha's position.

Republican Representative Kay Granger of Texas called Murtha's remarks "reprehensible and irresponsible," while House Speaker Dennis Hastert said he was "saddened" Murtha and Democratic leaders "have adopted a policy of cut and run."

"They want us to wave the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world. It is unfortunate that this is all politics all the time."

Murtha's comments came amid a larger fight over whether the White House manipulated intelligence on Iraq.

U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney has called the criticism "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."

Bush, half a world away in South Korea, said it's "irresponsible" for Democrats to contend he deliberately misled Congress.

"They looked at the same intelligence I did. And they voted, many of them voted, to support the decision I made."

Democrats respond they saw some evidence deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction but no material that countered those claims or put them into context.

Neither of the two major official inquiries into flawed pre-war intelligence addressed the question of whether the White House exaggerated the threat Iraq posed.

The White House is promising a "sustained" attack on Democrats that has taken on the tone of an election campaign.

Even John Kerry, who lost to Bush in last year's presidential race, is entering the fray, stirring increasing speculation he's really already running for the 2008 Democratic nomination.

Bush, with such low approval ratings, is having trouble keeping Republicans in line on Iraq and other issues.

"When a president's numbers fall below a certain point, the feeling is that every man is for himself; that while the president's name will never again be on a ballot, theirs will be," said pollster Charlie Cook.

Cook, writing in this week's National Journal, notes a recent survey shows roughly two-thirds of conservative Republicans are skeptical of building democracies in certain parts of the world and have grave doubts about Iraq. Two-thirds of liberal and moderate Republicans are sticking with the president when it comes to the war.

A poll on foreign policy issues released Thursday by the Pew Research Center suggested 42 per cent of Americans think the United States should "mind its own business internationally," a sharp increase from 2002 when it was 30 per cent.

The figure is on par with the percentage expressed during the mid-1970s after the Vietnam War and in the 1990s after the Cold War ended, the centre said.

© The Canadian Press, 2005

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