Murtha mocks good news in Iraq, vows to fight for pullout
House Democrats’ point man in the war-funding showdown with the White House on Nov. 20 dismissed U.S. military gains in Iraq and vowed to tighten the purse strings until President Bush accepts a pullout plan.
“Look at all the people that have been displaced, all the [lost] oil production, unemployment, all those type of things,” said Rep. John P. Murtha, chairman of House Appropriations defense subcommittee. “We can’t win militarily.”
The Pennsylvania Democrat conceded violence was down dramatically and some normalcy restored on Iraq’s streets, but he said U.S. victory remains unattainable as long as Baghdad fails to pass national-reconciliation laws.
“To change the political law, it doesn’t seem to me you need the military stability,” Mr. Murtha told reporters on Capitol Hill.
The dim view of U.S. military progress in Iraq and a resolve to force a pullout have been echoed by the two top Democrats on Capitol Hill — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
The funding standoff will force the Pentagon to make budget cuts at bases in the U.S. to cover the costs of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, including sending furlough notices to as many as 100,000 civilian employees, White House press secre- tary Dana Perino said.
She said the furlough notices could start going out before the Democrat-led Congress returns from a two-week Thanksgiving break.
“We are calling on Congress [. . . ] to send the president supplemental war funding without arbitrary surrender dates and without micromanaging the war before they leave for their next vacation, which is going to be around the Christmas holidays,” Mrs. Perino said.
“I think that Americans have seen what our troops have been able to do this year,” she said. “We’ve got a long way to go, but they have started to make some significant gains, and to pull the rug out from under them now seems irresponsible.”
House Democrats two weeks ago passed a $50 billion emergency warspending bill that mandated a U.S. pullout start in 30 days with a goal of almost all troops leaving Iraq by December 2008.
Mr. Bush promised to veto the bill, and Senate Republicans blocked the bill in a procedural vote Nov. 16.
The White House has said Congress’ effort to dictate troop levels undermines the ability of Mr. Bush and the generals to wage the war.
The confrontation is reminiscent of the standoff in May over $120 billion of war funds for 2007, which ended when Democrats backed down rather than face criticism for not supporting troops on the battlefield.
Mr. Murtha said this time the president was to blame for the pending cuts at bases in the U.S., possibly including closed child care centers, libraries, family and youth activity centers, and counseling services for returning troops and their families.
“Rather than working with Congress on a responsible war-spending package, this administration is executing a plan to plunder from these essential base-budget accounts in order to fund a continuation of the president’s misguided war,” he said.
The $50 billion bill would have paid for about three months of war- fare while lawmakers debates the rest of the $196.4 billion war request for 2008.
The Pentagon began shuffling funds to cover war costs last week, right after Mr. Bush signed the $471 billion defense spending bill, which did not include war funds but permitted some account transfers.
Critics of the Democrats’ pullout plan say it called for retreat and surrender just as U.S. forces are winning ground against terrorists and insurgents in Iraq.
The troop-surge strategy implemented this past summer by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, U.S. commander in Iraq, has produced measurable security gains, although the fledgling Iraqi government continues to move sluggishly to adopt national-reconciliation laws.
U.S. military fatalities dropped sharply, from 101 in June to 39 in October. Iraqi civilian deaths also declined markedly, from 1,791 in August to 750 in October, the Associated Press reported. Mortar rocket attacks by insurgents last month were the lowest since February 2006, as were the number of “indirect-fire” attacks on coalition forces.
Iraqi officials plan to reduce checkpoints, ease curfews and reopen some roads in and around Baghdad because of improving security. Sunni Arab tribal leaders in western Anbar province, now allied with the U.S. military, say al Qaeda is “almost defeated” in their oncechaotic region.
Rep. John P. Murtha, chairman of House Appropriations defense subcommittee, blames President Bush for the Pentagon’s pending cuts at bases in the U.S. to cover the costs of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.