A growing chorus of United States Democrats, including the party's presumed presidential nominee and its leader in the House of Representatives, called for US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation today amid a burgeoning scandal over abused Iraqi prisoners.
President George W Bush stood by his embattled defence secretary, although aides said yesterday he had privately expressed annoyance over the Pentagon chief's handling of the scandal that came to light last week with televised photographs showing sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in a US-run jail outside Baghdad.
"Secretary Rumsfeld has served our nation well. Secretary Rumsfeld has been the secretary during two wars and he is an important part of my cabinet and he'll stay in my cabinet," Bush said during an appearance with Jordan's King Abdullah.
But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said US soldiers "are suffering great casualties and injuries, and American taxpayers are paying an enormous price" because Rumsfeld "has done a poor job as secretary of defence".
"Secretary Rumsfeld must resign," she said, adding he "must be held responsible for any cover-up" of the abuses.
Presidential contender John Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, said he had called on Rumsfeld to quit "months ago" because of miscalculations on Iraq and the new revelations only "compounds" the evidence for him to step down.
Some top House Republicans dismissed the resignation calls, and many lawmakers said it was too early to fix blame for an Iraqi prisoners scandal that most acknowledged posed a major setback to US efforts to stabilise Iraq.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, and several other House Republicans accused the Democrats of trying to politicise the war.