Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"Obama Challenges McCain on Iraq Stroll"

WASHINGTON — Democrat Barack Obama on Tuesday challenged Republican White House rival John McCain for using a heavily guarded trip to a Baghdad market as evidence that Iraq's security is improving.

"The idea that the situation in Iraq is improving because it takes a security detail of 100 soldiers, three Black Hawk helicopters and a couple of Apache gunships to walk through a market in the middle of Baghdad is simply not credible and not reflective of the facts on the ground," Obama said in a taped interview broadcast Tuesday as part of a Democratic presidential forum sponsored by the online community MoveOn.org.
Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards insisted Congress must use its funding authority to deescalate the conflict and begin to bring U.S. troops home. Both the House and Senate passed legislation last month tying funding for the war to a timetable for troop withdrawal, but President Bush has opposed it.

"If Bush vetoes funding for the troops, he's the only one standing the way of the resources they need. Nobody else," Edwards said in remarks prepared for delivery and provided by his campaign to The Associated Press. "Congress must stand firm. They must not write George Bush another blank check without a timeline for withdrawal -- period."

He also proposed capping profits to contractors working on reconstruction projects in Iraq.

The forum was the first "virtual" presidential campaign gathering and the latest example of growing political influence of MoveOn and other online communities. Seven Democratic contenders agreed to appear in the forum and answer questions about the Iraq war submitted by MoveOn members.

Obama, who's made his early opposition to the conflict a central part of his campaign message, criticized comments made by McCain and other members of a congressional delegation that toured Baghdad's Bab al-Sharqi market last week. The group traveled in armored military vehicles and wore body armor during their hourlong excursion.

Obama did not mention McCain by name, and his campaign declined to respond. The Republican senator said Monday that he talked to many Iraqis in the market who told him that, while they still worried about a sniper, they felt as though things were getting better.

"That place is being rebuilt today and is a functioning market," McCain said in Arizona. "Of course it isn't entirely safe, but it certainly is a functioning market and progress is being made there."

Obama's campaign provided excerpts of his appearance to The Associated Press.

He stressed that he opposed the Iraq invasion from the start "in part because I believed that if we gave open-ended authority to invade Iraq in 2002 that we would have open-ended occupation of the sort that we have right now."

"I have stated clearly and unequivocally that the open-ended occupation has to end," the Illinois senator said.

Participants in the forum were asked questions about Iraq chosen through more than 60,000 votes by the 3.2 million members of MoveOn.org. Afterward, members can vote on which candidates' positions they prefer, with the results to be announced Thursday.

Other participants include Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Chris Dodd of Connecticut; Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

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