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Clark calls Iraq war 'blunder'

In reversal, says he would have voted no to use of force

IOWA CITY -- Democratic presidential candidate Wesley K. Clark reversed an earlier opinion that he probably would have voted for war in Iraq, telling a cheering college-town crowd the invasion was "a major blunder" he never would have supported. Clark said his Army career taught him that "the use of force is only a last resort" that wasn't justified in Iraq.

"I'm a soldier," he said. "I've laid on the battlefield bleeding."

While the use of force can occasionally be justified, he said, "it's not a way to solve problems and resolve disputes. It's very difficult to change people's minds when you are bombing them and killing them."

Clark sought to blunt a controversy that arose as he opened his campaign. The core is his resume as a retired four-star general with the credibility to challenge President Bush and oppose the war in Iraq.

Many of his backers expressed surprise when Clark told reporters he probably would have voted to authorize the use of force.

"At the time, I probably would have voted for it, but I think that's too simple a question," Clark said Thursday.

In a speech Friday to more than 1,000 people jammed into a lecture hall at the University of Iowa and in interviews, Clark underscored his opposition to the war, explaining: "There may be times when you may have to use force, but only as a last resort.

"Let's make one thing real clear, I would never have voted for this war, never," Clark said in an interview.

"I've gotten a very consistent record on this. There was no imminent threat. This was not a case of preemptive war. I would have voted for the right kind of leverage to get a diplomatic solution, an international solution to the challenge of Saddam Hussein."

Clark's initial remarks left members of his campaign team flummoxed.

"That caught me off guard a little. The general has been very critical of the war," said George Bruno, a New Hampshire activist.

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