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Edwards battling Clinton on Iraq, Iran

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John Edwards is slipping in Iowa. Bill Richardson's pecking away there at his anti-war credentials, and Hillary Clinton is gaining—she leads Edwards in the latest Des Moines Register poll by 6 percentage points. This is potentially ruinous for Edwards, for whom Iowa is absolutely a must-win.

On NBC's Meet the Press Sunday, Edwards set out to repair the damage by subtly adjusting his Iraq position, making Richardson's Iraq policy sound silly, and calling Clinton's stance on Iraq "very similar to what President Bush says." That's the trifecta if Edwards can pull it off. He's also going after Clinton on Iran.

MTP's Tim Russert noted that, after the New Hampshire debate, "Democrats [were] somewhat surprised" that their top three candidates—Clinton, Edwards and Barack Obama—won't pledge to have all American troops out of Iraq by 2013. Richardson had pounced on Edwards, saying his plan to remove all "combat" troops in a year "is not ending the war." Is Richardson correct? Russert asked.

"Of course he's not correct," Edwards answered, adding that the only troops he'll leave will guard the embassy in Baghdad. Did Richardson really propose to make it "the only American embassy in the world that we provide no protection for"? Edwards went on to discuss the "quick reaction forces" he's previously said should be in the region hunting for terrorists. Edwards had never specified where those troops would be—presumably wherever the terrorists are—but Sunday he said that none would be stationed in Iraq. They'd be "just outside ... probably in Kuwait." Edwards said his position is unlike that of Clinton, who's for keeping combat troops in Iraq: "To me, that is a continuation of the war."

Clinton's stated position: She'd retain "a vastly reduced residual force" to train Iraqi forces, provide logistical support and conduct counter-terrorism operations.

On Iran, Edwards is ripping Clinton for her vote in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment labeling Iran's military a terrorist organization. Clinton says the measure in no way empowers President Bush to use force against Iran. But Edwards says Bush, who's labeled Iran an enemy in the war on terror, can't be trusted to use good sense this time, any more than he did in 2002 when Congress authorized the use of force in Iraq. "We learned a very different lesson from that" 2002 vote, Edwards said of Clinton. "I have no intention of giving George Bush the authority to take the first step on a road to war with Iran."

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