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Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 04:45 GMT 05:45 UK
Democrat hopefuls at one on Iraq
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton
Although united on Iraq, Democrats still had room for skirmishes
All eight Democratic contenders for the United States presidency have attacked President Bush's policy in Iraq.

They were speaking in the first TV debate ahead of the November 2008 election.

Speakers urged the president not to veto a bill passed by both houses of Congress which sets a timetable for withdrawing US troops from Iraq.

"If this president does not get us out of Iraq, when I am president, I will," said New York Senator Hillary Clinton.

Another front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, said: "We are one signature away from ending this war."

However, the president has said that he will veto the bill next week.

The debate was held in South Carolina, which will be the first southern state to hold a primary election, early next year.

The BBC's James Westhead says that there was no real confrontation between the candidates, and they will be relieved to have avoided any embarrassing slip-ups.

Iraq swipes

"We have given the Iraqi people the chance to have freedom, to have their own country. It is up to them to decide whether or not they're going to take that chance," said Senator Clinton.

DEMOCRATIC CONTENDERS
Democratic candidates at the South Carolina debate
Mike Gravel
Barack Obama
Chris Dodd
John Edwards
Dennis Kucinich
Joe Biden
Bill Richardson
Hillary Clinton

Mr Obama, who is running a close second to her according to opinion polls, added: "The American people have said, Republicans and Democrats, that it's time to end this war."

But although all the speakers were united in their calls for a withdrawal from Iraq, the issue did give rise to attacks about political support for the US-led invasion.

"I am proud that I opposed this war from the start," said Mr Obama.

Mrs Clinton, who voted to authorise the 2003 invasion, said that had she known then what she knew now, she would have acted differently.

Senator John Edwards said that anyone who had voted to back the war "should search their conscience".

Mr Edwards himself voted in favour, but has since apologised for doing so.

The BBC's Justin Webb says Mr Edwards summed up the Democrats' new-found confidence in suggesting that the nation needed to rethink the way it approached the outside world.

"How do we ultimately change what's happening - the threats that America faces?" he asked.

"I think for that to occur, the world has to see America as a force for good again."

Key state

In the 90-minute debate, candidates had a maximum of a minute to answer questions. No follow-up questions, or open debate, was allowed, which gave some candidates the chance to side-step awkward issues.

All the Democratic contenders are currently focused on winning their party's nomination in the primaries early next year. The chosen candidate will then fight the Republican nominee in the November 2008 election.

"The significance of the debate is that it is in South Carolina, one of the four states that are quite important in terms of the possibility of building momentum before the 'super Tuesday' of 5 February, when the nomination will really be decided," Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution told the BBC News website.

Mr Hess said the debate gave a "moment in the sun" for less high-profile candidates, such as Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden, offering them a chance to reach a wider audience than usual.

The Republican contenders will hold their first televised debate on 3 May in California.




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