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Related Story: Stay or go? An analysis of the debate, from Knight-Ridder

WASHINGTON — Rep. Duncan Hunter says Congress has sent a message for the troops in Iraq: “We’re not pulling the rug out from under them.”

The California Republican, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, believes that the lopsided defeat last week of a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq debunks headlines that have said support for military action there is dwindling. The resolution failed 403-3.

“Every (television) station I’ve seen over the last few weeks had words to the effect that more and more voices in Congress calling for immediate withdrawal, the mission is slipping,” he said in an interview with Stars and Stripes on Monday. “I wanted to make sure that number gets to the troops because I think it speaks volumes.”

But Democrats have attacked the measure — calling for “the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately” — as an overly simplistic view of the need for an exit strategy.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., last week called for defense officials to “immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces” but said Friday’s vote ignored his proposals for a longer-term Marine presence and ramped-up diplomatic efforts in Iraq.

“My resolution was carefully drawn,” Murtha told Stripes on Wednesday. “What that vote was is just a political play.”

But Hunter dismissed similar criticisms on Monday, saying the resolution was “the simplest, most accurate, most direct depiction of the theme that is going out” to troops in Iraq.

“The message is that it was 403-3 against those words,” he said. “Let [the troops] decide whether that’s a vote against immediate withdrawal.”

Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said he didn’t support Murtha’s amendment but felt it raised some important issues about how to proceed in Iraq.

But Tuesday he told Stripes the “immediate withdrawal” resolution was “a knee-jerk overreaction” that had little real meaning.

“Nobody ought to think there was a substantive debate on that,” he said. “And I think there is a need for a real debate on this.”

Hunter said he is pleased with the message sent by the vote. He noted that White House staffers have expressed reservations about bringing the resolution to the House floor, uncertain if there would be substantial support for the immediate withdrawal.

Hunter in recent weeks has been a critic of media coverage of Iraq. Earlier this month the armed services committee held a hearing to highlight the military successes and infrastructure work done by U.S. troops there, news he said the mainstream media has ignored.

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