An influential Democratic member of Congress is urging the Bush administration to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq. Republicans responded immediately, saying doing so would encourage insurgents and ruin efforts to bring democracy to Iraq, and the Middle East.
Congressman Jack Murtha, known as a key pro-military and defense Democrat in the House of Representatives, says the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq is making problems there worse.
"It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people, or the Persian Gulf region," said Mr. Murtha.
Saying the war in Iraq is "not going as advertised," Mr. Murtha lashed out at criticism recently aimed at Democratic critics by President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
In recent speeches, both have denounced Democrats who have alleged intelligence was distorted and manipulated to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Mr. Murtha, who serves on a key committee overseeing defense spending, says the burden of the war has not been shared equally, citing more than 2,000 U.S. military deaths and many thousands more wounded.
The United States, he says, should make it clear to the transitional Iraqi government before the December 15 elections in Iraq, that U.S. forces will be departing.
"All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free, free from U.S. occupation. And I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process," he added.
Republicans immediately lashed out at Mr. Murtha, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert accusing him and other Democrats of waving the white flag of surrender to the terrorists of the world.
Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, says while he respects Mr. Murtha, who is a Vietnam veteran, withdrawing from Iraq would send a signal that the United States is not able to endure in a struggle with terrorism:
"The Democrats who have undertaken this initiative have made a mistake. I think they have under-estimated the toughness of the American people and the understanding that if we don't change the world, the world is going to change us," said Mr. Hunter. "And right now in Iraq, we are changing the world, we are 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."
Congressman Murtha's joint resolution introduced in the House calls for U.S. forces to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date. He told reporters he thinks this could be accomplished within six months.
He also calls for creation of an American quick-reaction force and a special U.S. Marine force that could respond to urgent needs in the region.
Some of the harshest criticism came from Arizona Republican Congressman J.D. Hayworth.
"Saddam Hussein has been disposed, he is behind bars, that is an unqualified success," said Mr. Hayworth. "Dare we now snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, plagued by poll-driven self-doubt of those who embrace surrender. I don't believe the American people will stand for it."
It's not yet known how much support Mr. Murtha will get from other Democrats for his initiative, which he describes as reflecting his own conscience, and the need for Congress to stand up for American soldiers dying and being wounded in Iraq.
Sparring over Iraq also took place in the U.S. Senate, which earlier this week approved a statement saying 2006 should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty to allow U.S. forces to leave.
Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy responded to criticism by Vice President Cheney who called Democratic statements about pre-war intelligence on Iraq dishonest and reprehensible, accusing Mr. Cheney and President Bush of trying to deceive Congress and Americans.
Alaska Senate Republican Ted Stevens and John Thune of South Dakota were among Senate Republicans defending the administration Thursday against Democratic criticisms over Iraq.