- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Rep. John P. Murtha yesterday defended his call to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq, saying he was reflecting Americans’ sentiment in his comments last week.

“The public turned against this war before I said it,” the Pennsylvania Democrat said at a press conference after a speech to a civic group in his hometown of Johnstown, about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. “The public is emotionally tied into finding a solution to this thing, and that’s what I hope this administration is going to find out.”

Mr. Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran and the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said he has received numerous e-mails from World War II veterans and parents of American soldiers in Iraq since calling for the troop pullout on Thursday.

Mr. Murtha, first elected to Congress in 1974, said his great-grandfather served in the Civil War, his father and three uncles in World War II, and that he and his brothers were Marines. He said Western Pennsylvania, where his district is located, is a “hotbed of patriotism, and they’ve lost confidence in this effort.”

Mr. Murtha said Iraqis must take control of their own destiny.

“We cannot win this militarily. Our tactics themselves keep us from winning,” he said.

House Republicans on Friday pushed for a vote on a nonbinding resolution to pull out the troops after Mr. Murtha’s comments. It was rejected 403-3, but Democrats said the quick call for the vote was a political stunt designed to undermine Mr. Murtha’s comments.

“The guys in Congress are scared to death to say anything because they might be vilified,” he said. “The soldiers can’t speak for themselves. We sent them to war and, by God, we’re the ones that have to speak out.”

Mr. Murtha said he was unmoved by criticism he’s received from President Bush, others in Congress and the public.

Rep. Jean Schmidt, Ohio Republican, spoke on the House floor Friday about a phone call she received from a Marine colonel serving in the Ohio General Assembly who said, “cowards cut and run, Marines never do.” Asked about it, Mr. Murtha called the comment ridiculous.

“You can’t spin this. You’ve got to have a real solution,” he said. “This is not a war of words. This is a war.”

Mr. Murtha said he specifically asked more liberal members of his party not to step forward to support him because “I didn’t want [the public] to think this was a Democrat position plotted from the left wing.” He expressed confidence that terrorist bombings in Iraq would cease once U.S. troops were gone and Iraqis became solely responsible for their destiny.

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