Fast Withdrawal of G.I.'s Is Urged by Key Democrat

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 - The partisan furor over the Iraq war ratcheted up sharply on Capitol Hill on Thursday, as an influential House Democrat on military matters called for the immediate withdrawal of American troops and Republicans escalated their attacks against the Bush administration's critics.

Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, a Vietnam combat veteran who voted for the Iraq war, said that after more than two years of combat, American forces had united a disparate array of insurgents in a seemingly endless cycle of violence that was impeding Iraq's progress toward stability and self-governance. He said the 153,000 American troops in Iraq should be pulled out within six months.

"Our military has done everything that has been asked of them. It is time to bring them home," Mr. Murtha said, at times choking back tears. Mr. Murtha's proposal, which goes well beyond the phased withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq that other moderate Democrats have proposed, stunned many Republicans who quickly held their own news conference to criticize the plan.

[President Bush, in South Korea, continued on Friday to be questioned by reporters about the debate over Iraq. His press secretary issued an unusually blistering statement responding to Mr. Murtha's call for a pullout, declaring that the Democrat was "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party." Page A16.]

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois said in a statement that Mr. Murtha and Democratic supporters had "adopted a policy of cut and run."

"They would prefer that the United States surrender to terrorists who would harm innocent Americans," Mr. Hastert said.

The increasing vitriol was the latest sign of eroding support in Congress for the war and sharpening debate over the administration's use of prewar intelligence on Iraq's unconventional weapons to justify the American-led invasion to topple President Saddam Hussein in 2003.

This week, leading Republicans joined Democrats in sending the White House a message of their growing impatience with the pace of the war by requiring reports to Congress.

In a speech on Wednesday night, Vice President Dick Cheney said senators who had suggested that the administration had manipulated the intelligence were making "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."

Mr. Bush was eager on Thursday to join Mr. Cheney in taking on the critics of the use of the intelligence. Asked about whether Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, was correct when he said it was patriotic to question the president's use of the intelligence, Mr. Bush answered in unusually personal

"I think people ought to be allowed to ask questions," he said. Then, leaning forward and emphasizing his words, he said, "Listen, it's patriotic as heck to disagree with the president. It doesn't bother me. What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics."

Mr. Bush's remarks drew a fiery response from senior Congressional Democrats.

"We need leadership from the White House, not more whitewashing of the very serious issues confronting us in Iraq," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the minority leader.

Senate Republicans had joined Democrats in approving a plan to press the administration to provide more public information about the course of the war and to shift more responsibility for securing Iraq to its government. Democrats have unleashed an advertisement to counter the Republicans' powerful Web advertisement that quotes prominent Democrats, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who had earlier voiced support for the war and Mr. Bush.

As the war of words heated up, two senior Senate Republicans, John W. Warner of Virginia and Ted Stevens of Alaska, called on their colleagues on Thursday to temper their language, so as not to hurt troop morale overseas.

"I think this debate of recent has turned on the usage of words that really sent a wrong message abroad," Mr. Warner said.

He later said the two sides needed to tone down their statements.

As lawmakers debated timetables and strategies for troop withdrawals, a senior American general said that under certain conditions American forces in Iraq could drop to less than 100,000 by Dec. 31, 2006. "I think that's possible," the commander, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who oversees day-to-day operations in Iraq, said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in Baghdad. "I believe the capability of the Iraqi forces would be sufficient that that could happen. The ultimate determinate would be the state of the insurgency and the capability of the Iraqi government to support it in the field."

General Vines emphasized that a decision to begin reducing forces would hinge on security conditions on the ground, the abilities of newly trained Iraqi forces and whether an Iraqi government to be elected next month had broad public support. He said it was likely that Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, could give a recommendation on American force levels to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld after the new Iraqi government forms in the spring.

But the talk of Washington was Jack Murtha, 73, a blunt former Marine drill instructor who served a combat tour in Vietnam and retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve after 37 years of service.

The ranking Democrat on the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, Mr. Murtha has earned bipartisan respect for his work on military issues over three decades in Congress. "When he talks, I listen," said Representative John M. McHugh, a New York Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

In recent months, though, Mr. Murtha has voiced concerns raised by constituents and from his own conversations with troops and commanders about problems like shortages of body armor and other equipment. His district in southwestern Pennsylvania has lost 13 service members in Iraq. Aides said Mr. Murtha had mulled over his proposal for weeks and decided to announce it before lawmakers left this weekend for the Thanksgiving Day recess. He presented his proposal to a closed meeting of House Democrats, who gave him a standing ovation. Mr. Murtha then held a news conference, where, fighting back tears, he said it was Congress's moral duty to intervene on behalf of the troops.

"Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency," said Mr. Murtha, who visited Iraq in late August. "We have become a catalyst for the violence."

If approved by the House and Senate, Mr. Murtha's resolution would force the president to withdraw United States troops "at the earliest practicable date," which he said could be six months. Under his plan, the Pentagon would retain a quick-reaction force in the region, as well as marines within a few sailing days.

When asked about Mr. Cheney's remarks on Wednesday, Mr. Murtha replied sarcastically: "I like guys who've never been there that criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done."

In the Vietnam era, Mr. Cheney had five deferments and did not serve in the military.

David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Pusan, South Korea, for this article, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Washington.