Illinois Democratic Senator Obama calls for U.S. troop reduction in Iraq

Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday called for a troop reduction in Iraq and criticized the Bush administration for questioning the patriotism of people who speak out against the war.

"I believe that U.S. forces are still a part of the solution in Iraq," he said according to a prepared text of Obama's speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. "The strategic goals should be to allow for a limited drawdown of U.S. troops, coupled with shift to a more effective counter-insurgency strategy that puts the Iraqi security forces in the lead and intensifies our efforts to train Iraqi forces."

Following the Dec. 15 Iraqi elections, Obama said the United States should focus over the course of the next year on how to reduce its troops there.

The freshman senator stressed that he was not calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.

"It is not appropriate from my perspective for us to unilaterally and precipitously pull all our troops out immediately. ... The question is can we reduce our presence in Iraq systematically and ... reduce the enormous strains on our military that right now is at a breaking point?" Obama told reporters after his speech.

White House spokesman Allen Abney said the administration's policy has "always been for a conditions-based withdrawal" from Iraq. But he said the White House would not set an arbitrary timetable.

Obama who has captured national attention since giving the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention last year declined to provide specific troop reduction numbers but said the administration and military need to provide a timeframe for the phased withdrawal.

The U.S. lawmaker also joined the chorus of politicians defending decorated Vietnam War veteran Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, who was criticized by the Bush administration and other Republicans after calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.

"We watched the shameful attempt to paint John Murtha a Marine Corp recipient of two purple hearts and a Bronze Star into a coward of questionable patriotism," Obama said.

The administration has since toned down its criticism of Murtha with Bush over the weekend calling him "a fine man" and longtime supporter of the military.

Obama said Americans want to find solutions to the "difficult and complicated situation in Iraq."

"The President could take the politics out of Iraq once and for all if he would simply go on television and say to the American people 'Yes, we made mistakes. Yes, there are things I would have done differently. But now that we're here, I am willing to work with both Republicans and Democrats to find the most responsible way out,"' Obama said, AP reports. P.T.

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