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Democrats Defend Congressman Who Urged US Pullout from Iraq

Democrats in Congress are strongly defending Congressman John Murtha, who called on Thursday for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. The debate over the war in Iraq, and pre-war intelligence intensified further, just as Congress rushed to complete its business before a two week recess.

After Mr. Murtha's statement on Thursday, the White House fired back with scathing criticism of the lawmaker, a Vietnam veteran recognized and respected in Congress for his strong support of the U.S. military.

In a statement many lawmakers felt was unnecessarily harsh, the White House called Mr. Murtha's decision baffling, making a comparison to film-maker and well-known critic of President Bush, Michael Moore.

President Bush's National Security Adviser Steven Hadley said Mr. Murtha is a great leader in Congress, but questioned how his call for withdrawal contributes to winning the war on terror or bringing stability to Iraq.

On the floor of the Senate Friday, Senator John Kerry, who lost the 2004 election to President Bush, lashed out at what he called disgusting efforts by Republicans to discredit Mr. Murtha in particular, and label Democratic criticism on Iraq unpatriotic.

"We have seen the politics of fear and smear too many times," said John Kerry. "And whenever challenged, there are some Republican leaders who engage in the politics of personal destruction rather than debate the issues. It doesn't matter who you are."

This response came from Arizona Republican Senator John Kyl.

"I don't think anyone is trying to crush debate or dissent, or prevent questions from being asked," said John Kyl. "But it is a fact when the president of the United States is accused of deliberate manipulation of intelligence to bring us into war, some have even said lied, in order to bring us into war, that deserves a response. That is part of a healthy debate."

Emotions about Congressman Murtha's statement were evident in the House of Representatives, where South Carolina Republican Joseph Wilson and Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern spoke.

WILSON: "Instead of proposing winning solutions for the global war on terrorism, some Democrats are throwing up their hands and waving the white flag of surrender."

MCGOVERN: "The American people want this Congress to debate the war in Iraq. We should have had a debate before we entered into this war, instead we rushed into it."

Democrats were also back on the attack on the issue of intelligence used to justify invading Iraq and whether, as Bush administration officials have maintained, lawmakers had access to all of the same intelligence.

In a letter to National Security Adviser Hadley, Democrats on the House Committee on Intelligence counter that claim.

They say lawmakers had neither the level of daily access to U.S. intelligence officials the president had, nor access to "raw" reports casting doubt on judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction [WMD], or those indicating no operational connection between Iraq and al-Qaida.

Democrats are also accusing the Republican lawmaker who heads the Intelligence Committee, Congressman Peter Hoekstra, of failing to conduct a rigorous investigation of the Iraq WMD issue.

Congresswoman Jane Harman is the top Democrat on the committee:

"Our members, elected exactly the same way as [U.S.] Senators are, are concerned that our work and our perspectives will not be heard as the public rightly learns more about the incredible, faulty intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq," said Jane Harman.

This effort parallels one by Senate Democrats to force the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee to complete a long-delayed probe of pre-war intelligence.

Two Democrats on that committee, Senators Carl Levin and Jack Reed, Friday renewed charges the administration "distorted, exaggerated, and ignored" intelligence leading up to the war.

Comparing pre-war statements by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, with known intelligence from the period, they say the distortions occurred on what they call the two most critical issues - an alleged cooperative relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida, and alleged Iraqi attempts to seek aluminum tubes and uranium from Niger as part of any effort to develop nuclear weapons.