Democratic Candidates Spar Over Iraq Online

April 10, 2007 — -- Candidates in the 2008 Democratic presidential field presented their ideas to end the Iraq war in the first virtual town hall forum hosted on the Web site of the liberal anti-war group MoveOn.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who for the last several months has been working to address criticism of her 2002 vote authorizing the war in Iraq, said she is not dropping the option of withholding funding for U.S. troops in Iraq if President Bush does not sign legislation which sets a timeline for troop withdrawal. "I don't want to foreclose any option right now," Clinton said.

Clinton's position on troop funding appears to set her apart from her main 2008 Democratic presidential rival, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who conceded to The Associated Press last week that Congress will provide money for U.S. troops serving in Iraq even without a withdrawal timeline, because no lawmaker "wants to play chicken with our troops."

For his part, Obama used his virtual time to stress why he opposed the Iraq invasion from the start. The senator said he opposed the war from the beginning because, in part, he 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."

Obama also took a swipe at Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for his remarks last week that security in Iraq was 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 it's not reflective of the facts on the ground," Obama said in remarks that did not mention McCain by name.

Former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., thanked MoveOn for its "relentless" grassroots pressure to end the war, and, as he does so often, called on Congress to use its funding authority to end the war. "We don't need more debate, we don't need symbolic resolutions and we don't need abstract goals. What we need are binding requirements."

Perhaps hoping to get to the left of Obama and Clinton on Iraq, Edwards played off Obama's "chicken with the troops" comment, saying, "This is not a game of chicken, this is not about making friends or keeping Joe Lieberman happy, this is about life and death." Congress must stand firm to end the war, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee said. If elected, Edwards vowed, he would end war profiteering, which some groups say has become rampant in Iraq.

Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., explained his plan to withdraw American troops by the end of the year with "no residual force whatsoever." Several of Richardson's rivals have said they support a small level of U.S. troops remaining in Iraq in the future. The governor said he supports Congress cutting off funding of the war. "It's the constitutional right of Congress to start a war and stop a war, " he said.

In laying out his plan for Iraq, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., expressed his opposition to using U.S. troops to train the Iraqi national police force. "The idea that a national Iraq police force would be patrolling the streets … is just beyond comprehension -- it's not possible," Biden said. "There's room for a national army but not a national police force," he added.

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., touted his support of a plan to have all U.S. troops out of Iraq by March 2008, and said the U.S. ought to start redeploying troops "this evening."

"We need to take a new direction in Iraq, and that direction is out," declared Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who is the only Democratic presidential candidate who voted against the Iraq war. "I not only voted against the war, but I urged other members of Congress to vote against the war."

MoveOn's 2.2 million members are expected to indicate via online ballot whose Iraq war views they support. The survey results will be released on Thursday.

ABC News' Teddy Davis contributed to this report.