Former vice presidential candidate John Edwards, who is considering another run for the Democratic presidential nomination, said Saturday the United States should start pulling troops out of Iraq immediately.

The former senator from North Carolina told reporters America should "make it clear (to Iraqis) we are leaving, and the best way is to start leaving. We should take 40,000 combat troops out now."

Edwards, who has said he regretted his vote as a U.S. senator authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq, said he would ask the country's military leaders for a strategy "to have the (rest of the) troops out in roughly 12 to 18 months."

"There is no chance other countries in the world will help Iraq as long as we are an occupying force," he said.

On the Israeli-Hezbollah fighting in the Middle East, Edwards noted he was on the Israel-Lebanon border only three weeks ago, and said Israel "has absolutely the right to defend itself," though he said there "needs to be an international security force in southern Lebanon."

Edwards was making a number of stops Saturday in New Hampshire, which he has visited several times this year as he considers another run for the presidency.

He was Sen. John Kerry's running mate in 2004 after making his own bid for the Democratic nomination