WASHINGTON – Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., on Friday called for a sharp reversal of course in Iraq.

The spiraling violence is “deeply disturbing,” Skelton said in a conference call with reporters, during which he called for the redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq. Skelton, of Lexington, Mo., is likely to become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee if Democrats gain control of the House in next month’s congressional elections.

“Time is not on our side,” Skelton said, noting that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating. Skelton originally was a strong supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq but has grown sharply critical of the way President George W. Bush has managed the war.

Skelton said he wanted some troops to be brought home while others were stationed near Iraq in case they were needed to quell increased bloodshed or to prevent a foreign invasion of Iraq.

Under the Democrats, oversight and investigation of U.S. military policy would be more active, Skelton said, while support for the troops and their families would be increased even as the war policy was examined.

Skelton was joined by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who would probably lead the House defense appropriations panel if the Democrats take a majority in the vote.

Since he called for a phased withdrawal last November, Murtha said, 707 more Americans have died in Iraq, and the American position has gone downhill.

“We’ve lost the hearts and minds of the (Iraqi) people, and we’ve become caught in a civil war,” Murtha said. Failures such as the inability to provide residents of Baghdad with more than 2½ hours of electricity a day have hurt the U.S. image, he said.

“The big problem in the Middle East is Iran,” Murtha said. “We went to the wrong place.”

Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., who might be tapped to lead the House International Relations Committee, said Democrats were “united in opposing global terrorism and in recognizing the brutal and fanatical nature of our enemy.”

“But we are also united in the belief that our current course in Iraq is unsustainable and counterproductive,” he said.

Lantos was asked whether jihadists wouldn’t regard an American withdrawal from Iraq as a victory for them.

“Nothing will make our enemies more depressed than our change in course,” he said. “The jihadists may be happy for 24 hours or 24 days, but not in the long run because the change will strengthen the United States.”

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