Democratic hawk blasts Bush over Iraq, urges pullout

`FLAWED POLICY': A veteran of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, John Murtha went on the offensive against attacks on critics of the Iraq war

AGENCIES , WASHINGTON AND SEOUL

Sat, Nov 19, 2005 - Page 1

A Democratic congressional leader on defense called for an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, as he rejected on Thursday Bush administration attacks on war critics and raised bipartisan pressure for a new policy.

"The US cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It is time to bring them home," said Representative John Murtha, a retired Marine colonel and the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees defense spending.

Murtha is widely regarded as one of his party's top voices on military issues.

Murtha's remarks followed a string of sharp attacks by US President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney against critics of their Iraq-war policy and handling of prewar intelligence.

Murtha rose through the ranks of the US Marine Corps from private to colonel. He left college in 1952 to join the Marines and serve in the Korean War. He later attended Officer Candidate School and volunteered for service in the Vietnam War, winning a Bronze Star medal for valor.

Murtha made a reference to the draft deferments that kept Cheney out of Vietnam.

"I like guys who got five deferments and [have] never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done," Murtha said.

His call came two days after the Republican-controlled Senate overwhelmingly backed a resolution asking the administration for a plan to end the war, but rejected a Democratic resolution demanding a timetable from Bush.

Murtha, who supported the Iraq war but criticized Bush's handling of it, urged the administration to pull out US troops as soon as it could be done safely. He estimated that would take about six months.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan, in a statement issued with Bush in South Korea, said Murtha is a respected veteran and politician "so it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party."

Murtha said he would introduce a resolution calling for the return of US forces in Iraq "at the earliest practicable date." He called the war "a flawed policy wrapped in illusion."

KOREAN OPPOSITION

Meanwhile, South Korea plans to bring home about one-third of its troops from Iraq next year, the Defense Ministry said yesterday.

Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung reported the plan to withdraw about 1,000 troops from Iraq to the ruling Uri Party yesterday, the ministry said. About 3,200 South Koreans are in northern Iraq to help rehabilitate the country, making Seoul the second-largest coalition partner contributing forces after Britain.

South Korea's move caught the White House by surprise.

"They have not informed the United States government of that," said National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones.