Ex-President Clinton Opposes Setting Iraq Timetable



Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Former President Bill Clinton said the U.S. should restructure how its troops are deployed in Iraq and begin taking some personnel out of the country without setting a firm timetable for a withdrawal.

``It seems to me the best thing to do is heed the wishes of all the leaders of Iraq, the various sectors, who say they want us to draw down our forces,'' Clinton said in a CNN interview broadcast tonight. ``We don't want to set a fixed timetable if that led to chaos.''

Clinton's remarks illustrate an emerging split in the Democratic Party over how to deal with the conflict in Iraq.

One faction, represented by Representative John Murtha, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Russell Feingold, are calling for President George W. Bush to begin pulling forces out of Iraq and ending a large-scale U.S. presence there by the end of next year. Other Democrats, including Senators Joseph Biden and John Kerry, are critical of Bush's policy while warning against setting any schedule or deadline for withdrawal.

Clinton made his comments in response to a question about criticism that his wife, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, leveled against Bush on Iraq.

``Whether you were for it or against it, it seems to be you should all be praying that it succeeds,'' the former president said. ``I didn't agree with what was done when it was done, but we are where we are.''

War Debate
Hillary Clinton, a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, voted in favor of authorizing Bush to take military action in Iraq. She criticizes the administration for failing to build international support, for not letting weapons inspectors finish their work and for how the war was handled.

``I take responsibility for my vote, and I, along with a majority of Americans, expect the president and his administration to take responsibility for the false assurances, faulty evidence and mismanagement of the war,'' Clinton wrote in a letter to supporters dated Nov. 29. She also opposes setting a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal.

The stance of both Clintons is similar to that taken by Biden, a Delaware Democrat and potential 2008 presidential candidate, and Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who was the party's nominee for president in 2004. Like Bush, they wouldn't set a deadline for withdrawal and advocate turning more defense roles to Iraqis while U.S. troops concentrate on more specialized tasks.

`Most Effective'
``When we draw down, we want to put them in safer areas and use them where they're most effective in battle, with strike force capacity and in intelligence gathering,'' Clinton said.

Bush, in speech yesterday that his aides said was intended to clarify U.S. strategy in Iraq, said that as Iraqi forces take on more security responsibility, U.S. troops ``can concentrate on training Iraqis and hunting down high-value targets,'' such as terrorist leaders.

``Our goal is to train enough Iraq forces so they can carry the fight, and this will take time and patience,'' Bush said.

The U.S. military has plans to reduce U.S. personnel in Iraq -- now about 160,000 troops -- by 40,000 to 60,000 over the course of 2006 provided that political and military progress continues.

``The thing that was important about the president's speech was he acknowledged that we can have a draw down next year, and we should withdraw our troops into safer areas, which is what Mr. Murtha said,'' Clinton said in the CNN interview. `` And I hope that we'll reconfigure them with greater strike force capacity and greater intelligence capacity.''

Iraq Debate
Murtha stoked the Iraq debate on Nov. 17, when he said the U.S. could not win militarily in Iraq and should begin withdrawing troops. The Pennsylvania Democrat and Vietnam War veteran has been an advocate for military leaders in Congress.

Murtha, in a speech today in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, said the U.S. Army is ``broken, worn out,'' and ``living hand to mouth,'' the Associated Press reported.

Pelosi, of California, is the first party leader to say she backs Murtha's position. Feingold, who voted against the 2002 war resolution, has said the U.S. should plan to bring all troops out of Iraq by the end of next year.