Democratic hopefuls want end to Iraq war


Manchester (US) : Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has said that her first act as president would be to end the US military presence in Iraq.

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Iraq and national security were recurring themes in the televised debate Sunday between eight Democratic hopefuls in New Hampshire, the state where both US major parties are holding their first primary elections in early 2008.

Clinton's rivals for the centre-left presidential nomination tried to put the US senator from New York state on the defensive for having voted for the Congressional war authorization that preceded the 2003 US-led of invasion of Iraq.

Clinton, seeking to become the first female president in US history, pushed back with calm determination. At the end of the two-hour debate, her opponents appeared to have scored no major points against her.

She refused to be drawn out on Iran, calling for intensified diplomacy but insisting that Tehran must be prevented "at all costs" from getting nuclear weapons. When an audience member asked the candidates for their most urgent priorities, Clinton was clear.

"Well, if President Bush has not ended the war in Iraq, to bring our troops home. That would be the very first thing that I would do," she said, drawing applause from an audience of several hundred at St Anselm's College in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Barack Obama, the charismatic senator from Illinois who is considered Clinton's closest competitor, agreed – but added one more: reforming US health care, which is shaping up as a major campaign issue.

Clinton sought to shift blame to Iraqis, paying tribute to US troops who she said had provided a chance for democracy that Iraqis were squandering.

"They gave the Iraqi people a chance for elections and to have a government," she said. "It is the Iraqis who have failed to take advantage of that opportunity."

Other topics during the two-hour debate included energy policy, the environment and proposals by all of the major Democratic candidates to expand health care insurance.

The Republicans will hold their own presidential debate Tuesday in Manchester.