CHICAGO: US Senator Barack Obama piled pressure on Hillary Clinton over Iraq, as his frontrunning Democratic presidential rival ran up against mounting scrutiny of her vote to authorize war in 2002.
Obama questioned how the New York Senator would make good on her vow to end what he is calling a “tragic” conflict that should never have been waged, as he fired up packed campaign rallies in Iowa and his hometown of Chicago.
Clinton, on the stump in New Hampshire in the fast-moving opening skirmishes of the most open presidential election in 80 years, was meanwhile again taken to task by core Democratic activists over her position on Iraq.
“I am not clear on how she would proceed at this point to wind down the war in a specific way,” Obama, 45, told reporters when asked to critique Clinton’s plans on the bloody US engagement during a campaign stop in Iowa.
“I know she has stated that she thinks the war should end by the start of the (next) president’s first term ... beyond that though, how she wants to accomplish that, I am not clear, I would let her address those issues.”
Obama, on a quest to become the first African-American US president, has put forward a plan to get US combat troops out of Iraq by March 31, 2008.
Clinton in Nashua, New Hampshire, where Obama will campaign Monday, was challenged by an unidentified guest at a Democratic houseparty who said her position on Iraq “doesn’t fly.”
She was also asked whether she should admit that her vote on Iraq was a mistake, as did another one of her rivals, defeated 2004 Democratic vice presidential pick John Edwards.
“I think the mistakes were the president’s mistakes and I believe he should be held accountable for them,” Clinton said to cheers from her audience.
Clinton wants to cap troop levels in Iraq and opposes President George W. Bush’s last-ditch surge of forces designed to pacify the country.
She has also threatened to work to cut off funds for the Iraqi army, unless Iraqi leaders take responsibility for quelling violence and has emerged as a fierce critic of Bush’s war management.
The issue of Iraq is especially problematic for Clinton, as she must woo core party activists who are broadly anti-war in order to win the 2008 Democratic nomination.
Obama tells every audience he meets that he is proud that he was against the 2003 conflict from the start.
“We made a tragic mistake,” he told a rowdy crowd in Chicago late Sunday.
But the rising star senator did not have it all his own way, as a knot of protestors interrupted his speech with chants and unfurled a banner reading “Obama, You Stand Up, Stop the Funding” calling him to push a bid in the Senate to cut the purse strings of the war.
Obama has been helped by the fact that he was not, like Clinton, in the Senate and under heavy political pressure, when the vote to go to war was taken.
“We ended up authorizing a war that should never have been authorized and never been waged,” Obama told cheering Democratic activists in a rally in Ames, Iowa Sunday.
Obama also blasted Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard’s complaint about his plan to bring US troops home from Iraq as “empty rhetoric.”
“It’s flattering that one of George Bush’s allies on the other side of the world started attacking me the day after I announced,” Obama told reporters.
“I would also note that we have close to 140,000 troops in Iraq, and my understanding is Mr Howard has deployed 1,400, so if he is ... to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of empty rhetoric.”
Obama opened his quest for the Democratic nomination in Illinois on Saturday, invoking anti-slavery icon Abraham Lincoln. Obama demanded an end to the “tragic” war in Iraq and said he felt a call of destiny to transform his nation.
The son of a Kenyan economist and white American mother also pledged to combat global warming.