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Clinton takes aim at US war efforts

Ex-Ark. governor Huckabee of GOP announces '08 bid

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, at a town hall-style forum yesterday in Davenport, Iowa, spoke to about 300 activists. She fielded questions for nearly an hour. (Charlie Neibergall/associated press)

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday that President Bush should "extricate our country" from Iraq before he leaves office, asserting that it would be "the height of irresponsibility" to pass the war along to the next commander in chief.

"This was his decision to go to war with an ill-conceived plan and an incompetently executed strategy," the Democratic senator from New York said in her initial presidential campaign swing through Iowa. The White House condemned Clinton's comments as a partisan attack that undermines US soldiers.

Clinton held a town hall-style forum attended by about 300 activists, giving a brief speech before taking questions for nearly an hour. Pressed to defend her vote to authorize force in Iraq before the US-led invasion in March 2003, Clinton responded by stepping up her criticism of Bush.

One questioner asked Clinton if her track record showed that she could stand up to "evil men" around the world.

"The question is, we face a lot of dangers in the world and, in the gentleman's words, we face a lot of evil men and what in my background equips me to deal with evil and bad men," Clinton said. She paused to gaze while the audience interrupted with about 30 seconds of laughter and applause.

Meeting later with reporters, she was pressed to explain what she meant. She said it was a joke.

"I thought I was funny," Clinton said. "You guys keep telling me to lighten up, be funny. I get a little funny and now I'm being psychoanalyzed."

She told reporters that evil men included Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who remains at large. "Isn't it about time we get serious about that?" she said.

Also yesterday, conservative Republican Mike Huckabee, seeking to repeat the success of another former governor from Hope, Ark., said he is taking the first step in what he acknowledged is an underdog bid for the White House.

"This is an opportunity to show the American dream is still alive and there's hope and optimism that can be awakened in a lot of people's lives if they think that a person like me can run and actually become president," he said.

Huckabee, 51, who took over as governor at the height of Bill Clinton's Whitewater scandal, comes from the same small town in the same rural state as the former Democratic president.

Huckabee left office Jan. 9 after serving 10 1/2 years as governor of a Democratic-leaning state. He faces steep odds in a crowded GOP field that includes well-known and well-funded hopefuls such as Senator John McCain of Arizona, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and Rudolph Giuliani, former mayor of New York City.

"One of the reasons that I'm running for president is because I think that America needs folks who understand what it is to start at the bottom of the ladder ," Huckabee said.

He plans to travel to Iowa tomorrow and Wednesday.

Huckabee is setting up an exploratory committee that will allow him to raise money and hire a campaign staff.

A former Southern Baptist minister, Huckabee is an opponent of abortion rights and gay marriage, but faces a tough fight from other conservatives in the field for support from the GOP's right flank. Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, a favorite of the religious right, is already in the race.