The White House is resisting calls for any change in its Iraq policy. But a prominent critic of the war in Congress says the administration is starting to move closer to his view that it is time to bring American troops home.
Last month, Congressman John Murtha stunned official Washington with his call for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
The Pennsylvania Democrat is a Vietnam War veteran and one of the military's strongest supporters in the legislature. He says American forces have done all they can do in Iraq, and it is time for them to come home.
The White House has rejected his calls for a pull-out, with the president saying he respectfully disagrees with Mr. Murtha. But the veteran congressman says his demand for withdrawal has had an impact.
He spoke on the ABC television network program This Week.
"I think this administration is coming around. I see the signals that they are starting to realize, the military has done everything it can do. The military has accomplished its mission, and it has to be turned over to the Iraqis," Mr. Murtha said.
In a speech last week at the U.S. Naval Academy near Washington, President Bush said America's military involvement in Iraq will change, as conditions warrant. But he strongly rejected setting, what he called, an arbitrary timetable for a withdrawal.
The president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, repeated those comments on ABC. He said there will be troop adjustments, as progress is made in creating a peaceful, democratic and secure Iraq. But he emphasized it would be foolish to set a timeline for a pull-out, saying any drawdown or redeployment of troops must be linked to the training of Iraqi security forces.
"Everybody, at the end of the day, wants a stable Iraq, with the coalition forces back home. That is what the Iraqis want. That is what we want. The question is how you get there," Mr. Hadley said.
Mr. Hadley did not appear face-to-face with Congressman Murtha on This Week. He was asked if he had anything he wanted to ask the lawmaker.
"Why does he think pulling out the troops now will make America more secure? Because everyone agrees that the Iraqis are not yet ready to take responsibility for security," Mr. Hadley said.
John Murtha's call for a prompt withdrawal has drawn a mixed response on Capitol Hill. The top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, has offered her support. But other members of his party have been more restrained.
On the Republican side, Arizona Senator John McCain, also a Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war, has suggested that Mr. Murtha's comments were more driven by emotion than cool reason.
Mr. McCain was interviewed on NBC's Meet the Press program.
"I think he has become emotional, and understandably so," Mr. McCain said. "He goes to funerals, he goes, as many of us do, to Walter Reed [the Army hospital in Washington], and he sees the price of war."
Mr. Murtha said on ABC that the military funerals and visits to hospitalized soldiers have saddened him deeply, but he said his call for a withdrawal was based on many factors.
He noted that Senator McCain has urged the president to send more troops to Iraq.
"There is no question about it," Mr. Murtha said. "I feel for these troops that are hurt, and I go to these hospitals almost every week. But that is not the point. The point is, he is calling for more troops, and we cannot even meet the deadlines [recruiting targets] for the troops the way it is now. So we do not have the troops we need. The Army is stretched so thin they cannot do the job."
Despite their differences on Iraq, Senator McCain and Congressman Murtha describe themselves as colleagues, friends, and fellow military veterans.