Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton prodded the Pentagon Wednesday to plan quickly for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq — a politically loaded contingency that military leaders have avoided discussing.

The Democratic presidential candidate, whose recent statements have made her own position murky on when the bulk of U.S. troops should leave Iraq, urged top military brass in a private meeting and a public letter to detail how they would bring forces home.

The New York senator met privately with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace late Tuesday, and sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates urging military leaders to begin such planning if they haven't already.

The move by Clinton follows word from Baghdad that Iraqi military officials are drawing up plans for the possibility of a withdrawal of U.S. forces, and a failure by congressional Democrats failed to muster enough votes for legislation forcing a timed withdrawal.

Clinton now wants the Pentagon to brief lawmakers on their withdrawal contingency plans.

"Congress must be sure that we are prepared to withdraw our forces without any unnecessary danger," Clinton wrote to Gates. "If no such plans exist, please provide an explanation for the decision not to engage in such planning."

The appeal raises the specter of a logistical nightmare should the recent troop increase ordered by President Bush prove unsuccessful: trying to rapidly remove 150,000 troops, along with all the sensitive equipment and military gear that the U.S. does not want to leave behind.

Last week, after voting to advance a bill that would force withdrawal by March 2008, Clinton said she would not commit to supporting that deadline. Hours later, she said she would in fact support that deadline, prompting one Democratic challenger, Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, to question what her position actually is.

Clinton voted in 2002 to authorize the Iraq invasion, but became a constant critic of the Bush administration's handling of the war.

That original vote still upsets many anti-war Democrats, who were further infuriated by her long-running opposition to a date certain deadline for withdrawal. She seemed to back off that stance with her recent comments on supporting the March 2008 deadline.

Clinton sided with 28 other senators who lost a procedural vote on the measure offered by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis. The amendment would have cut off money for combat operations after March 2008.