(dpa) - Hillary Clinton sketched a three-prong plan for withdrawal from Iraq that includes the removal of 5,000 to 10,000 troops a month, the use of small strike forces to target al-Qaeda terrorists and a major diplomatic initiative.
Speaking as the fifth anniversary of the war looms this week, Clinton, 60, who is running neck-and-neck against fellow Senator Barack Obama, 46, for the Democratic presidential nomination, outlined her Iraq strategy Monday at George Washington University in the nation's capital.
She charged that President George W Bush and Senator John McCain, 71, the presumptive Republican nominee, were offering a blank check to the Iraqi government with their open-ended commitment that McCain has hinted could be 100 years.
"They both want to keep us tied to another country's civil war, a war we cannot win," Clinton said. "We can have hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground for 100 years, but that will not change the fact that there is no military solution to the situation in Iraq."
Clinton said that if she is elected president in November, she would ask for more United Nations involvement in bringing about the political reconciliation the Iraqis have been unable or unwilling to do.
One of her first international meetings would be with allies and friends in the region, including Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf States and European allies. The goal would be to set up a regional stabilization group that would encompass Iraq's neighbours, including Iran and Syria, she said.
Under the Bush administration, Iran has attended several such regional meetings.
Clinton lags behind Obama by about 100 delegates in the scramble for nominating convention delegates in state-to-state voting since January. They next face off in Pennsylvania on April 22, a key, delegate-rich race in the rust belt of fading industry where the economy and jobs are major issues.
In polling, Clinton is seen as stronger on economic issues. She could also benefit from a flap over Obama's close relationship with a fiery African-American minister, Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr, whom he has called his spiritual advisor.
Wright has made anti-white remarks from the pulpit. Obama's efforts to distance himself have failed to calm the controversy, and the African American candidate was preparing to deliver a major speech on race relations early Tuesday.
In her speech, Clinton criticized the Iraqi government for failing to agree on distribution of oil revenues and to provide basic services. She charged that some of the oil revenues have ended up in private, foreign bank accounts.
"As we continue to police Iraq's civil war, the threats to our national security, our economy and our standing in the world continue to mount," she said.
Clinton estimated the war in Iraq would ultimately cost more than 1 trillion dollars. Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz puts the price tag at 3 trillion dollars in a recent book on Iraq.
Clinton said withdrawal from Iraq would not be defeat, as Bush and McCain have argued, but would rather spur the Iraqis "to take responsibility for their own future."
"Defeat is keeping troops in Iraq for 100 years," she said.
To take up the slack in fighting the terrorist groups that have colonized in Iraq since the war began, Clinton would create small elite strike forces to engage in targeted operations against them.