The 73-year-old Democrat from Pennsylvania is a much-decorated war hero from Vietnam and Korea; a heavyweight in military matters in the Congress who stunned the Bush White House last November by calling for the withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq.
"Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence," Rep. Murtha says. "My plan calls for an immediate redeployment of U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces."
And now he tells 60 Minutes the withdrawal is going to happen sooner than we think.
"I think the vast majority will be out by the end of the year. And I'm hopeful it'll be out sooner than that," the congressman says.
And here's how it will happen: Murtha tells 60 Minutes that mounting pressure from constituents in this election year will force Congress to pass his withdrawal plan, or something similar to bring troops home.
Asked if he is going to press for a new debate on Iraq during this session of Congress, Murtha says, "I think you'll see not only debate, I think you'll see some changes."
Does Murtha think Congress is going to insist upon a major withdrawal from Iraq before election day in November?
"Sure," he says. "You're gonna see a plan for withdrawal."
And how does he think he will get that plan through the Congress and impose a withdrawal plan on President Bush?
"I think the political people who give him advice will say to him, 'You don't want a Democratic congress. You want to keep the Republican majority. And the only way you're gonna keep it, is by reducing substantially the troops in Iraq,'" Murtha explains.
Apparently, the president hasn't gotten that message yet. This past week, here's what he told a veterans group about future decisions to withdraw troops from Iraq:
"All of my decisions will be based upon conditions on the ground, not artificial timetables set by Washington politicians," President George W. Bush said on Jan. 10.
But it's those conditions on the ground – most Iraqis wanting the U.S. occupation to end, and insurgents killing or maiming Americans – that has convinced the congressman that it's now time to get troops out.
"Troops I talk to and they say to me, 'In the daytime, they wave at us. At nighttime, they throw hand grenades,'" says Murtha.
Asked who these insurgents are, Murtha says they are Iraqis. "Ninety-three percent of the insurgents are Iraqis. A very small percentage are foreign fighters. The Iraqis know who they are. Once we're out of there, they'll eliminate 'em," he says.
The White House isn't as confident that Iraqis will drive out the foreign fighters, but Murtha says U.S. troops are now caught in the middle of an Iraqi civil war, not the fight against terrorists that the White House keeps talking about.
"They take Iraq and then they talk about terrorism," Murtha says. "We're diverting ourselves away from the war, the war on terrorism, when we're fighting an insurgency in Iraq."
Murtha's criticism prompted the president to launch a series of speeches to regain public support.
The president says the congressman is wrong. Two days after Murtha's Nov. 17 speech, Mr. Bush said, "The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. If they're not stopped, the terrorists will be able to advance their agenda to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, and to break our will and blackmail our government into isolation. I'm going to make you this commitment. This is not going to happen on my watch."
"He's trying to fight this war with rhetoric," Murtha responds. "Iraq is not where the center of terrorism is. So when he says we're fighting terrorism over there, we're inciting terrorism over there. We're encouraging terror. We're destabilizing the area by being over there 'cause we're the targets. He said before there's weapons of mass destruction. He said there's an al Qaeda connection. There's many things he said turned out not to be true. So why would I believe him when he says the things he just – made that statement.