JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – U.S. Rep. John Murtha, a key Democrat on military issues, on Monday defended his call to pull U.S. troops from Iraq, saying he was reflecting Americans' sentiment.
"The public turned against this war before I said it," Murtha said. "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."
Murtha, 73, a decorated Vietnam veteran and the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said he has received support from the public since calling for the troop pullout on Thursday. He said he has gotten e-mails from World War II veterans and parents of American soldiers in Iraq.
Murtha noted that 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. Murtha said western Pennsylvania, where his district is located, is a "hotbed of patriotism and they've lost confidence in this effort."
He said Iraqis must take control of their own destiny.
"We cannot win this militarily. Our tactics themselves keep us from winning," Murtha said at a scheduled news conference after a speech to a civic group in his hometown of Johnstown, about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh.
House Republicans on Friday pushed for a vote on a nonbinding resolution to pull out the troops after Murtha's comments. It was rejected 403-3, but Democrats said the quick call for the vote was a political stunt designed to undermine Murtha's comments.
"The guys in Congress are scared to death to say anything because they might be vilified," Murtha 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."
Murtha said he was unmoved by criticism he's received from President Bush, others in Congress and the public.
U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, spoke on the House floor Friday about a phone call she got from a Marine colonel who said, "cowards cut and run, Marines never do." Asked about it, Murtha called the comment ridiculous.
"You can't spin this. You've got to have a real solution," Murtha said. "This is not a war of words, this is a war."
Aware that his comments last week would draw fire from conservatives, Murtha said he specifically asked more liberal members of his party not to step forward to support him.
"I didn't want (the public) to think this was a Democrat position plotted from the left wing," Murtha said.
Murtha expressed confidence that terrorist bombings in Iraq would cease once U.S. troops were gone and Iraqis became solely responsible for their destiny.
"Absolutely, we're the target. We're the enemy," Murtha said. "(The Iraqis) are a proud people, they've been around a lot longer than we have. They've going to win this themselves, they're going to settle this themselves. They have to, there's no alternative."
Murtha said he believes President Bush needs to realize how citizens feel about the war.
"All of us want to support the president when he's at war," Murtha said "But you can't support him when he won't change directions, won't listen."