600 Listen to Critic of Iraq War

By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 6, 2006

In an emotional two-hour public forum in Arlington last night on the Iraq war, one of the Bush administration's chief critics, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), renewed his call for an immediate pullout, saying, "We've become the enemy."

Murtha, a blunt-spoken decorated war veteran, has become a hero to the antiwar movement after he was denounced as a coward for his call to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Murtha's views had drawn sharp criticism earlier in the day from Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Pace said in a briefing that Murtha had sent the "wrong message" and that the lawmaker's comments Monday that he would not enlist as a soldier today would damage recruiting.

Before a crowd of about 600 people that spilled out of the auditorium and into an overflow room and the street, Murtha accused the Pentagon of ignoring a drop in recruitment levels and tolerating such problems in Iraq as low morale and shortages of body armor and other equipment.

"Instead of taking on the real problems, they face it with rhetoric," he said. " 'Murtha's hurting recruiting,' " the congressman said. "They say, 'You're hurting the effort and hurting the troops.' That's what so frustrating to me."

Murtha appeared at the forum at the invitation of its sponsor, Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), whose own Iraq views have caused him trouble in the past.

Many of those at yesterday's forum were Iraq veterans who support Murtha and detailed their frustration with botched missions and shared flak jackets. But one veteran angrily confronted him.

Said former Army sergeant Mark Seavey, who recently returned from Afghanistan: "I keep hearing you say morale is low, and I resent that. I don't know who you are talking to. Morale . . . is very high."

Moran, who is running for a ninth term in Virginia's 8th Congressional District, has held many town meetings throughout his district -- which includes Alexandria, Arlington County and a slice of Fairfax County to Reston -- on women's issues and the environment.

But with the invitation to Murtha, the meeting gained national attention on the Internet. The Web site http://www.freerepublic.com urged supporters of staying the course in Iraq to go out and protest, and groups such as MoveOn.org sent e-mails to opponents of the war urging them to attend.

Moran, who attributed the high turnout to growing public concern about the war, has long been vocal in his opposition to the war. At a forum in 2003, Moran's comments about the Jewish community's support for the war were widely criticized and brought accusations of anti-Semitism from some Jewish leaders. Moran apologized and has long insisted that his views were taken out of context.

Local Republicans derided Moran's decision to bring such a high-profile guest to what would normally be a listening meeting with constituents.

"This is not an opportunity for Jim Moran to hear from his constituents; this is an opportunity for them to pat themselves on the back and reinforce their misguided ideas," said Mike Lane, former chairman of the 8th District Republican Congressional Committee.

No Republican challenger has emerged to oppose Moran, Lane said. Only independent candidate James T. Hurysz has said he will oppose the congressman. Hurysz garnered 3 percent of the vote in the 2004 election, behind Moran's 60 percent and Republican Lisa Marie Cheney's 37 percent.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company