Responding to criticism from Nevada peace activists, Rep. Jim Gibbons said Tuesday that Iraq will become a "haven for terrorists" if U.S. troops withdraw too soon.
The Nevada Republican defended the Bush administration's policy in Iraq and rejected the Reno Anti-War Coalition's call for a public investigation into how the White House led the nation into war.
Gibbons, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said he agrees with a number of the group's positions, including wanting U.S. troops ultimately to withdraw from Iraq.
"But we cannot pull out before the nation is able to sustain itself," Gibbons said in a statement to The Associated Press.
"If we abandon the Iraqi people now, as a fledgling country, it will become a haven for terrorists just as Afghanistan did after the Soviet occupation ended," he said.
Four members of the anti-war coalition delivered a statement to Gibbons' office in Reno on Tuesday urging him to support fundamental changes in U.S. policy toward Iraq.
They said they understand Gibbons supports most of Bush's positions regarding Iraq.
"But we ask him, as our only voice in the U.S. House of Representatives, to seriously consider the folly of this war," said Steven Gifford of Reno.
"The current plan to hand over `limited sovereignty' to the Iraqi people on June 30 is a ruse," he said.
Paula McDonough, another coalition member, said the war "is being carried out without a structured exit plan."
"We understand bringing all the troops home tomorrow is not realistic. But we need to be working actively to get out," she said.
The coalition said it wants an investigation into "the long list of lies, misrepresentations and 'misstatements' from the White House for the invasion."
"The prisoner abuse scandal should outrage every American," the group said in a statement.
"It is quite clear to objective observers that the military of the `U.S.-led coalition' continues to disrupt life in Iraq. With each day's headlines about more civilian deaths and more evidence of systematic abuse of prisoners, the continued occupation only makes matters worse."
Gibbons was in Washington D.C., on Tuesday but has agreed to meet with coalition members on July 1, his aides said.