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Democratic hopefuls critical of Bush drawdown plan for Iraq

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: John Edwards calls for immediate withdrawal of 40,000-50,000 troops
  • Sen. Hillary Clinton says withdrawal of 30,000 troops by July "too little, too late"
  • Sen. Barack Obama calls for an immediate start to troop withdrawals
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democratic presidential candidates on Wednesday criticized President Bush's plan to withdraw roughly 30,000 troops from Iraq by next summer, with Sen. Hillary Clinton labeling it "too little, too late."

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Sen. Hillary Clinton listens as Gen. David Petraeus testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In an open letter to Bush, Clinton said the troop withdrawal "is simply too little, too late, and unacceptable to this Congress, and to the American people who have made clear their strong desire to bring our troops home, and end this war."

Bush on Thursday is expected to endorse the recommendations of Gen. David Petraeus that the troop levels in Iraq be lowered to 130,000 by July, down from the "surge" level of 160,000.

"As commander in chief, you have the authority and ability to greatly accelerate the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq, and to bring so many more troops home so much faster," the New York Democrat said. "I strongly urge you to choose this course of action."

In an interview Wednesday with CNN, one of Clinton's chief rivals for the 2008 nomination, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, said the president is returning to an earlier, failed policy.

"We now are still in the same position as we essentially were in June 2006," he said. "We are in the same levels of violence; we are at the same levels of dysfunctional when it comes to the government in Iraq, and the American people at some point have a right to ask from their leadership in Washington and from the president: When is enough enough?"Video Watch '08 Dems weigh in on war in Iraq »

Obama presented a new plan for Iraq on Wednesday afternoon in Clinton, Iowa. It calls for an immediate drawdown of combat operations at a pace of one or two brigades every month, to be completed by the end of next year, according to excerpts released before his speech. A brigade comprises between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers. Obama recommended a new constitutional convention for Iraq, a new regional diplomatic effort and steps to confront the country's humanitarian crisis.

"Let me be clear: There is no military solution in Iraq, and there never was. The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq's leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops," Obama said in his speech.

Presidential candidate John Edwards, who has been pressing congressional Democrats to take a more confrontational stance against President Bush, called for an immediate withdrawal of 40,000 to 50,000 troops.

In a prepared statement, Edwards, a Democrat from North Carolina, said Obama, Clinton and Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, who recently called for a withdrawal to begin by Christmas, have "a moral responsibility to use every tool available to them, including a filibuster, to force the president to change course."

Edwards also called Obama's plan for troop withdrawal a copy of the president's plan

"Sen. Obama would withdraw only one to two combat brigades a month between now and the end of next year," said Edwards, "which for the next several months could essentially mimic the president's own plans to withdraw 30,000 troops by next summer."

In a statement, Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut, said Wednesday that it was useless to debate tactics when "the underlying policy is a complete failure."

"I call on my colleagues to do what needs to be done to end our involvement in this civil war and help restore our national security by clearly and directly declaring that they will not support any Iraq measure without a firm, enforceable deadline tied to funding for the completion of redeployment of troops from Iraq," Dodd said.

Democrats lack the votes in Congress to force the president to bring the troops home and are seeking a compromise position.

Congressional Democratic leaders are meeting with Republican lawmakers, who want a change in war policy but are unwilling to cut funding or set a timeline for withdrawal.

Privately, congressional Democrats concede that the next president probably will inherit at least a deployment of 100,000 troops in Iraq.

The Democratic presidential candidates, particularly the five in Congress, face pressure from liberal groups such as MoveOn.org demanding that they directly confront the president.

Obama said it was unlikely he would vote for any legislation that does not include a definite withdrawal deadline.

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"You know, we are going to have to evaluate what's available, but it appears clear to me that the president is not willing to compromise, short of Congress forcing him to accept a shorter timetable, and, absent that, we are essentially engaging in a bunch of symbolic action there," Obama told CNN.

"What we need is a clear message from the Congress that it is time for us to change course, and it's time for us to do that," he said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's John King, Dana Bash, Scott Anderson and Xuan Thai contributed to this report.

All About Iraq WarHillary ClintonChristopher DoddBarack Obama

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