NEW YORK – Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday the Iraqi Parliament should replace embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with a "less divisive and more unifying figure" to reconcile political and religious factions.
Clinton, the 2008 Democratic presidential front-runner, made her comments the same day President Bush reaffirmed his support for al-Maliki before a veterans' convention in Kansas City, Mo.
In a statement released by her Senate office, Clinton echoed a call by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin for Iraq's Parliament to oust al-Maliki in favor of a leader who could restore order to Iraq's unity government.
"During his trip to Iraq last week, Senator Levin ... confirmed that the Iraqi government is nonfunctional and cannot produce a political settlement because it is too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders," Clinton said. "I share Senator Levin's hope that the Iraqi Parliament will replace Prime Minister Maliki with a less divisive and more unifying figure when it returns in a few weeks."
Clinton voted in 2002 to authorize military action in Iraq and has since become a staunch critic of the conflict. She traveled to Iraq just before beginning her presidential campaign in January and expressed reservations about al-Maliki's leadership upon her return.
In a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, Bush reiterated support for al-Maliki a day after expressing frustration with the Iraqi leader's inability to bridge political divisions in his country.
"I support him," Bush said. "It's not up to the politicians in Washington, D.C., to say whether he will remain in his position. It is up to the Iraqi people who now live in a democracy and not a dictatorship."
Clinton was criticized by some of her Democratic rivals Monday after she told the VFW that new military tactics including a troop increase in Iraq's Anbar province appeared to be working.
In her statement Wednesday, she said the U.S. military had performed "magnificently" in Iraq but Iraq's divisions require a political solution.
"Our best hope of fostering political progress in Iraq is to begin the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops," she said.