Clinton urges start of Iraq pullout in 90 days

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the early front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has called for a 90-day deadline to start pulling American troops from Iraq.

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Clinton, the wife of former President Bill Clinton, has been criticized by some Democrats for supporting authorization of the war in 2002 and for not renouncing her vote as she seeks the U.S. presidency in next year’s election.

“Now it’s time to say the redeployment should start in 90 days or the Congress will revoke authorization for this war,” the New York senator said in a video on her campaign Web site, repeating a point included in a bill she introduced on Friday.

In October 2002, Congress authorized President George W. Bush to take military action in Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003.

Republicans blocked the Senate on Saturday from considering a nonbinding measure, adopted on Friday by the House of Representatives, denouncing Bush’s decision to send another 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq.

In offering what she called a roadmap out of Iraq, Clinton said a visit there last month had made her more determined to start what she called a long overdue withdrawal.

Clinton’s bill would cap the number of troops in Iraq at the January 1 level, prior to Bush’s decision to add 21,500 to the approximately 130,000 soldiers already there.

The buildup is part of a push to quell growing sectarian violence but comes as opinion polls show the majority of Americans disapprove of Bush’s decision to send more troops.

Clinton’s bill would require congressional authorization to exceed her proposed cap on U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Bush, announcing the troop increase on January 11, said stepping back prematurely would collapse the Iraqi government, tear the country apart “and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale.”

“If George Bush doesn’t end the war before he leaves office, when I’m president, I will,” Clinton said in the video.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, another Democratic presidential hopeful, said last week it was unclear how Clinton planned to end the conflict. Obama has called for a phased withdrawal to be wrapped up by the end of March 2008.

At a January 17 news conference after visiting Iraq, Clinton repeated her call for a phased redeployment as a way of pressing the Iraqi government to shoulder more responsibility for security. But she stopped short then of proposing a deadline for doing so.