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Obama Questions Rivals on Iraq

Stacey Snyder, 21, drove up from Drake University in Des Moines to hear Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) speak in Ames, Iowa. Obama's second day officially on the campaign trail was spent in the state, which holds early caucuses.
Stacey Snyder, 21, drove up from Drake University in Des Moines to hear Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) speak in Ames, Iowa. Obama's second day officially on the campaign trail was spent in the state, which holds early caucuses. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)

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By Anne E. Kornblut and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, February 12, 2007

CHICAGO, Feb. 11 -- Sen. Barack Obama, circling through Iowa on Sunday before returning here on Day 2 of his presidential launch, challenged his Democratic rivals to lay out specifics for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and declared that the thousands of lives lost so far in the war had been "wasted."

The senator from Illinois later said he regretted his choice of words, telling an interviewer that he meant the troops' sacrifices "have not been honored" by an adequate policy.

But Obama indicated in his earliest steps on the campaign trail that he considers Iraq a central distinction between himself and the rest of the Democratic field.

Obama opposed invading Iraq from the outset and has proposed a deadline of March 31, 2008, for removing troops from the country. He called Sunday for other candidates to explain their exit strategies. In particular, he said, he did not see an explicit blueprint for redeployment from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), the early Democratic front-runner.

"I am not clear on how she would proceed at this point to wind down the war in a specific way," he told reporters before a boisterous rally at Iowa State University. "I know that she has stated that she thinks that the war should end by the start of the next president's first term. Beyond that, though, how she wants to accomplish that, I'm not clear on."

In his speech at the university, Obama issued an indictment of how Washington dealt with Iraq:

"We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged -- and to which we now have spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted."

He backtracked in an interview with the Des Moines Register, saying: "I was actually upset with myself. Their sacrifices are never wasted; that was sort of a slip of the tongue as I was speaking.

"The sacrifices they have made are unbelievable. What I meant to say was those sacrifices have not been honored by the same attention to strategy, diplomacy and honesty on the part of civilian leadership," he added.

Two days in, Obama's campaign already had the feel of a candidacy in full swing. Thousands of Iowans filled an auditorium in Ames on Sunday morning to catch a glimpse of the now-official candidate.

On Saturday, after announcing his candidacy in the Illinois capital of Springfield, Obama drew sizable and enthusiastic crowds at town-hall meetings in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo. Thousands more greeted him upon his arrival back in Chicago, his adopted home town, for a rally on Sunday night.

He took on a relatively serious tone for much of his first days on the campaign trail. He gave lengthy and substantive answers to policy questions from audience members, at times bringing crowds to a hush as he laid out his political philosophy.


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