Obama: US less safe since Iraq war

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The Iraq war has left America less safe and has emboldened al Qaida, Iran, North Korea and the Taliban, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has said.

The Illinois senator criticised the stance of his Republican rival John McCain and said the United States needed to end the war in order to confront the emerging national security challenges of the 21st century.

He said the “central front in the war against terror is not Iraq, and it never was” and said his presidency would shift the focus to “the battles that need to be won … against al Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan”.

In a significant speech on the war on its fifth anniversary, Mr Obama said: “The war in Iraq has emboldened Iran, which poses the greatest challenge to American interests in the Middle East in a generation, continuing its nuclear programme and threatening our ally, Israel. Instead of the new Middle East we were promised, Hamas runs Gaza, Hezbollah flags fly from the rooftops in Sadr City, and Iran is handing out money left and right in southern Lebanon.”

He continued: “The war in Iraq has emboldened North Korea, which built new nuclear weapons and even tested one before the administration finally went against its own rhetoric, and pursued diplomacy. The war in Iraq has emboldened the Taliban, which has rebuilt its strength since we took our eye off of Afghanistan. Above all, the war in Iraq has emboldened al Qaida, whose recruitment has jumped and whose leadership enjoys a safe haven in Pakistan – a thousand miles from Iraq.”

He was speaking at Fayetteville Technical Community College in North Carolina, a short distance from Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base.

As America’s first black president, Mr Obama said he would withdraw US troops from Iraq at a pace of one to two combat brigades per month, finish the fight against the Taliban and root out al Qaida. He added he would also act aggressively to stop nuclear proliferation and double America’s foreign assistance to cut extreme poverty in half. He also said he would renew US diplomacy by talking to the nation’s adversaries, as well as its friends.

His speech came on the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war and two days after his Democratic rival, former first lady Hillary Clinton, restated her position.

In a speech at George Washington University in Washington DC, Mrs Clinton criticised Mr Obama for not starting his “aggressive” anti-war campaign until running for president.

She said she would start pulling troops out of the country within 60 days of taking office, but did not significantly advance her well-established policy. “Senator Obama holds up his original opposition to the war on the campaign trail, but he didn’t start working aggressively to end the war until he started running for president,” she said.