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Clinton: Politics shouldn't play role in Pakistan tragedy

  • Story Highlights
  • Barack Obama adviser seems to link vote on Iraq war, Benazir Bhutto's death
  • Adviser David Axelrod later backs down from comments on Hillary Clinton
  • Obama says Axelrod "in no way" suggested Clinton was somehow to blame
  • Clinton responds: Politics should not play a role in Pakistan tragedy
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(CNN) -- Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton on Friday accused the camp of rival Sen. Barack Obama of politicizing the death of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

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Sen. Hillary Clinton says she regrets that Sen. Barack Obama's camp "would be politicizing this tragedy."

Obama called that assertion "silly" and said the Clinton campaign thought that the unrest in Pakistan would work to its benefit.

"What happened is that the Clinton campaign started pushing this notion that somehow, immediately after this happened, that somehow this was going to advantage their campaign. And one of my campaign aides responded," Obama told CNN's Jessica Yellin on Friday.

The latest battle between the two Democratic front-runners began Thursday when Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, seemed to link Clinton's vote on the Iraq war and Bhutto's death.

"Barack Obama had the judgment to oppose the war in Iraq. And he warned at the time that it would divert us from Afghanistan and al Qaeda, and now we see the effect of that," Axelrod said. "Sen. Clinton made a different judgment."

On Friday, Clinton replied in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer by saying, "I just regret that [Obama and his chief strategist] would be politicizing this tragedy, and especially at a time when we do need to figure out a way forward."

"I don't think politics should be playing a role in how our country responds ... to the tragedy," she said. Video Watch what Clinton says about Obama »

Clinton also called for an independent, international investigation into Bhutto's death, "perhaps along the lines of what the United Nations have been doing with respect to the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri in Lebanon."

Obama said he doesn't share that view.

"It is important to us to not give the idea that Pakistan is unable to handle its own affairs," he said.

Bhutto died Thursday after a political rally in Rawarlpindi, Pakistan.

Obama's campaign has impled that some of Clinton's foreign policy decisions raise questions about whether she should be president.

Axelrod was responding to reporters' questions about the Pakistan situation and whether it enhanced assertions that Clinton's foreign policy experience may make her more fit to serve as commander in chief. See what candidates say about Bhutto's death »

Axelrod later seemed to back away from his earlier remarks.

"I believe our policies in Iraq have had a direct impact on events in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but I would not suggest there is a straight line relationship between the events of today in Pakistan and anyone's particular vote," he said Thursday.

"What I was pointing out was the difference in judgment at the time. Obama thought that the war would have a negative impact in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that seems relevant right now."

He also said he "certainly wasn't suggesting Sen. Clinton was complicit. She made a bad judgment on this war, and the war helped exacerbate problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And that's certainly something I would stand by."

Obama defended his strategist late Thursday when asked about Axelrod's comments. "This is one of those situations where Washington is putting a spin on it," Obama said. "He in no way was suggesting Hillary Clinton was somehow directly to blame for this situation."

The senator from Illinois added, "It's important for us to not look at this in terms of short-term political points scoring."

Clinton said the world deserves answers about the attack on Bhutto.

"I don't think the Pakistani government at this time under President Musharraf has any credibility at all. They have disbanded an independent judiciary. They have oppressed a free press," she said.

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Obama on Friday said that as president, he would pressure Musharraf to crack down on terrorists by suspending U.S. aid to Pakistan and to make sure that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is not in the wrong hands.

The exchange between the Obama and Clinton camps is less than a week before Iowa's January 3 caucuses. Most polls put Clinton and Obama in a three-way tie with former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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