Kulongoski turns critical on Iraq

SALEM, Ore. – Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, an early backer of President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, expressed growing discontent Tuesday with the toll the war is having on Oregon and its citizens.

"If you tell me the exit strategy is five years, it’s probably four-and-a-half years too long," the governor said in an interview looking at the year ahead.

Kulongoski, a former U.S. Marine, has attended the funerals of more than two dozen Oregon soldiers who have been killed in Iraq. He said the task is becoming more emotionally draining with each new casualty.

"It’s a very tough issue to deal with, and I have to tell you, it’s becoming more and more difficult for the public," he said. "People want to know what the end game is. And what is the exit strategy."

When Bush launched the Iraq war, Kulongoski applauded the move as a way to free the Iraqi people from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. He later said he had doubts about the way intelligence data was used to justify the invasion.

"All of this stuff about whether we should or shouldn’t have gotten in there, the historians can fight that out," he said Tuesday. "All I know is that I now have over 1,300 Oregon National Guard troops there plus all the other kids from Oregon there."

He also said the Iraq war has left the state short of the National Guard troops and equipment it will need if Oregon faces a severe wildfire season in the coming year.