A key congressional war critic has renewed his call for U.S. troops to leave Iraq and transfer responsibility for security to Iraqis. The comments by Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha came as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was pressed during an appearance before a Senate committee on prospects for a U.S. withdrawal.
Last year the pro-defense lawmaker took the Bush administration by surprise when he came out publicly in support of withdrawing U.S. forces, a process he described as redeployment.
Six months later, Congressman Murtha says conditions on the ground in Iraq are no better, and accuses President Bush and others of whitewashing the situation.
"While the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate, this administration says things are going very, very well," he said. "They want to sanitize this war and put a positive spin on things. And they ignore the real story."
Congressman Murtha says U.S. forces are under great strain and predicts by the time another six months pass, the situation will be even worse.
The Bush administration, he says, needs to lay out a plan.
"I think we have to have a plan from the executive branch which shows a timetable to get out, and it has to be a short timetable," he said.
The latest Murtha criticisms came as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was pressed by two Senate critics on the question of the timing of a significant U.S. troop reduction.
"The American people want to know when our forces, currently in harm's way in Iraq, are going to be out of harm's way, redeployed to a safe location outside of Iraq and you have said no, it won't happen this year," said Illinois Senator Richard Durbin.
"I did not, you're not listening carefully, I did not say it will not happen this year," Rumsfeld replied.
"Well, speak clearly and I will listen carefully," Durbin said.
"I did not say it will not happen this year, I said I hoped it will happen this year but I can't promise it," said the defense secretary.
Secretary Rumsfeld said there has been what he called a shift in weight in Iraq in the roles U.S. and coalition forces are playing toward training and equipping of Iraqi military and security forces.
This was supported by Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace who said about 25 percent of Iraq is now under the control of Iraqi forces, an area that includes half of Baghdad.
But in clarifying an earlier response to another member of the Senate panel, General Pace said it would not be possible within the next three months to remove both U.S. and coalition forces from any single Iraqi province.
That brought this response from Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan.
"I understand the importance of all of this, but I do think we have had a lot of discussion for a long time of how much progress we're making, and yet [in] none of the territories that you have described would we be able to bring American troops out of the territory and turn the territory, the province completely over to the Iraqi troops," he said.
The contrasting views on the situation in Iraq come as House and Senate lawmakers continue difficult negotiations on the latest supplemental spending bill containing funds for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.