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Obama defends votes in favor of Iraq funding

Says he backs troops, not war

Senator Barack Obama yesterday defended his votes on behalf of funding the Iraq war, asserting that he has always made clear that he supports funding for US troops despite his consistent opposition to the war.

"I have been very clear even as a candidate that, once we were in, that we were going to have some responsibility to make it work as best we could, and more importantly that our troops had the best resources they needed to get home safely," Obama, an Illinois Democrat, told reporters in a conference call. "So I don't think there is any contradiction there."

Obama's comments represent a direct response to attacks launched by aides to Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, who have pointed out that despite Obama's antiwar rhetoric, he has voted along with Clinton for some $300 billion in war funding since entering the Senate in 2005.

"In reality, when they both got to the Senate, Senator Obama's votes are exactly the same as Senator Clinton's," Clinton strategist Mark Penn said Monday at a Harvard University forum.

As a candidate for his Senate seat in 2003 and 2004, Obama said repeatedly that he would have voted against an $87 billion war budget that had been requested by President Bush.

"When I was asked, 'Would I have voted for the $87 billion,' I said 'no,' " Obama said in a speech before a Democratic community group in suburban Chicago in November 2003. "I said 'no' unequivocally because, at a certain point, we have to say no to George Bush. If we keep on getting steamrolled, we're not going to stand a chance."

Yet Obama has voted for all of the president's war funding requests since coming to the Senate, and is poised to vote in favor of the latest request when it comes to the Senate floor this spring. Liberal groups have demanded that lawmakers cut off funds for the war as a way to force its end, but Obama has joined most Democrats in the House and Senate in saying he would not take such a move.

Obama explained that position yesterday by saying that his initial opposition to the $87 billion was based on the fact that $20 billion of that sum was earmarked for reconstruction projects that he feared would be awarded by the White House in no-bid contracts.

Obama has also said repeatedly that while he would have voted against the war in 2002 based on what he knew at the time, he could not be sure that classified intelligence reporters made available to senators wouldn't have changed his mind.

In yesterday's conference call, he had no such doubts. "I am certain that I would have voted to oppose this war," he said.

The Clinton camp has sought to make Obama's record on the war an issue in part to cut into the support he's deriving among Democrats. Obama frequently says on the campaign trail that he was against the war before it started.