WASHINGTON – The ranking Republican in the House Armed Services Committee called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to resign Wednesday over his declaration that the Iraq war is "lost."
Rep. Duncan Hunter — a 2008 presidential candidate — wrote in a letter that Reid's comments "can have no effect but to demoralize the brave men and women, who are honorably fulfilling their mission in Iraq, and to encourage our adversaries."
"Even if you sincerely believe it to be true, your pronouncement of failure will undoubtedly be used by terrorist leaders to rally their followers — inevitably leading to increased attacks on U.S. and coalition forces," Hunter wrote.
Meanwhile, a sharply divided House of Representatives brushed aside a veto threat and passed legislation that would order President Bush to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by Oct. 1.
The 218-208 vote came as the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, told lawmakers the country remained gripped by violence but was showing some signs of improvement under a U.S. troop surge.
In his letter, Hunter said that lawmakers need to give the surge of troops a chance.
"Currently, there are about 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. When the reinforcement operation is at full strength, this number will stand at approximately 157,000. How can anyone, including a United States Senator, possibly declare as a failure a reinforcement operation that is less than fifty percent complete?"
But Democrats shot back that the surge won't make a difference.
"Our troops are mired in a civil war with no clear enemy and no clear strategy for success," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
The ranking Republican wrote that he has always considered Reid a friend, but that "my highest obligation is, like yours, owed to our forces in uniform, especially during this time of war."
"Given your position of leadership within the United States Government, I find your pronouncement of failure irresponsible and disserving to America's armed forces. In light of the fact that this statement has both been used by our adversaries and has exhibited a marked lack of leadership to U.S. troops, I call on you to resign your leadership position," concluded Hunter.
On Petraeus' visit, Hunter said the commander "didn't try to sugarcoat the issues and the problems" that American forces face in Iraq, but noted that comments like that by Reid provide incentive for U.S. adversaries.
"It must come as a shock to Al Qaeda leaders to have an aide come into their safe house and tell them that Senator Reid has declared that, in fact, they are winning and the war is lost," Hunter said. "I think it's highly irresponsible for the leader of the U.S. Senate to have said that and, just speaking for myself as the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, I think that the leader of the Senate should step down from that position."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.