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Inside Politics

'Unwinnable' comment draws GOP fire

Democratic lawmaker says changes needed for victory

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A pro-military Democratic congressman's description of the war in Iraq as "unwinnable" unless changes are made sparked anger in House Republicans Thursday.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, in a news conference with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said the problems in Iraq are due to a "lack of planning" by Pentagon chiefs and "the direction has got be changed or it is unwinnable."

Republicans seized on that word, ignoring Murtha's overall point: that more troops and equipment should be sent to Iraq.

Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the majority leader, accused Murtha of participating in a "calculated and craven political stunt."

"The Democrats are quitting, calling the war unwinnable while we have our men and women and their families sacrificing every day" charged Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Democrats are "basically giving aid and comfort to the enemy," echoed Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas.

Murtha usually wins high praise from Republicans for regularly supporting increases to the Pentagon's budget. As the top defense appropriator in his party, his views tend to carry a lot of weight.

But the word "unwinnable" -- which greeted lawmakers Thursday morning above the fold in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call -- quickly became a Republican target.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-California, who chairs the appropriations' defense subcommittee, said his friend was co-opted by Pelosi so she could drum up opposition to the war she voted against.

He said it was part of "movement" by Pelosi and her strategists "because it could have an impact on election time."

She's "using the issue for purely campaign political purposes," Lewis said.

At the news conference, Pelosi said Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should resign because of his handling of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

"He has been engaged in a cover-up on this issue and continues to be," she said.

Murtha complained that the administration treats Congress "with absolute arrogance" but said he doesn't want Rumsfeld to resign.

He also said he does not think the United States should withdraw from Iraq. Rather, he said, more troops and supplies should be sent.

"We cannot prevail in this war with the policy we have today. We need to mobilize or get out," he said.

"It would be devastating to pull out now, but it may be impossible to mobilize now that the public has turned against it," he said.


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