MICHELE NORRIS, host:
One Democrat who voted for the war is now calling for an immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha is a legendary hawk, a retired Marine who fought in two wars. Murtha says the military has done all it can in Iraq, and as NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, his shift reflects the increasing unease over the war in Congress and in the country.
ANDREA SEABROOK reporting:
Murtha gave several reasons for his about-face on the war, but his most impassioned argument was about the soldiers on the ground.
Representative JOHN MURTHA (Democrat, Pennsylvania): Our troops have become the primary targets of the insurgency. They are united against US forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence.
SEABROOK: Murtha spoke of the more than 2,000 soldiers killed in Iraq so far, and he choked up several times describing his meetings with wounded troops. When asked about the assertions of the Bush administration, that Democrats are undermining the war effort with their criticisms, Murtha lashed out at Vice President Cheney, who did not serve in the military.
Rep. MURTHA: I like guys who've never been there to criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys that got five deferments and never been there and send people to war and then don't like to hear suggestions about needs to be done. This is a flawed policy, wrapped in an illusion.
Representative DUNCAN HUNTER (Republican, California): I respect John Murtha. And he's a friend of mine and he's wrong.
SEABROOK: That's Duncan Hunter, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Hunter said now is not the time to criticize the war; he said it's a time for endurance.
Rep. HUNTER: It's easy to be a flag-waver and to be patriotic and to support the troops when you're in the initial attack phase and it looks like you may have only a two-week war.
SEABROOK: Others were not so delicate as Hunter. House Speaker Dennis Hastert called Murtha's move an attempt to surrender to the terrorists. One thing is sure: Murtha's comments got Republicans' attention. Fourteen of them showed up to counter his news conference. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.