Clinton appears to rule out return of ground forces in Iraq

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Democratic presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday she sees "no role whatsoever" for U.S. ground forces in Iraq despite setbacks in the struggle against Islamic State militants.

The existing U.S. policy of providing air support, intelligence, surveillance and training is the right one, Clinton said, in comments that appeared more definitive than her past statements about how the Iraqis themselves must carry the fight.

She addressed the matter after visiting Smuttynose Brewery, where she spoke in defense of the Export-Import Bank, a little-known U.S. agency that guarantees loans to help U.S. exporters and is opposed by some Republicans. Clinton was on her second visit to New Hampshire since opening her campaign for the Democratic nomination.

Islamic State group advances have intensified questions about whether the U.S. should be doing more in the country it invaded in 2003, setting off a years-long war that President Barack Obama drew down by phasing out American combat operations. Clinton supported the invasion as a senator, a decision she later called a mistake.

On Friday, she said the U.S. should stay its course, not expand it.

"American air support is available, American intelligence and surveillance is available, American trainers are trying to undo the damage that was done to the Iraqi army by former Prime Minister Maliki, who bears a very big part of the responsibility for what is happening inside Iraq today," she said.

"But at the end of the thought process that I engage in ... this has to be fought by and won by the Iraqis. There is no role whatsoever for American soldiers on the ground to go back other than in the capacity as trainers and advisers."

In remarks at the brewery, Clinton accused Republicans in Congress and the presidential race of threatening tens of thousands of small business jobs by seeking to cut the Export-Import Bank.

Conservative Republicans have sought to eliminate the bank, arguing it unfairly helps some large American companies sell products overseas at the expense of others and gives government too big a hand. Clinton said she learned as secretary of state that the U.S. was in a global competition for business, and the notion that Congress would eliminate "this relatively small but vital" agency is "absolutely backwards."

Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said Clinton is a "natural cheerleader" for the bank because its "biggest beneficiaries are foreign governments and giant corporations."

These, he said in a statement anticipating her defense of the bank, are "among the biggest donors to the Clinton Foundation as well as major underwriters of the speaking fees that added millions of dollars to the Clinton bank account."

At the brewery, Clinton spoke about her wish for regulations to be loosened on community banks to ease lending to small businesses.

Joanne Francis, the brewery's co-owner, said it was a "white-knuckle ride" securing loans and other money to start the brewery and open a new operations facility in 2014. "It was terrifying, to be honest with you," Francis said.

But Clinton criticizes Republicans for wanting to roll back regulations on the types of large financial institutions that contributed to the 2008 economic crisis. She said Republicans were holding a community banking overhaul hostage to their attempt to overturn the 2010 financial regulation law known as Dodd-Frank.

Her appearances in New Hampshire coincided with the State Department's release of emails, from her time as secretary of state, related to the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. Clinton said she welcomed their release and the information in the emails was handled appropriately, but kept focus on her economic message.

"I'm not running for my husband's third term and I'm not running for Barack Obama's third term," she said. "But I am running to continue the positive results-oriented policies that both of them worked for."

Clinton will make her first campaign speech at a major rally June 13 and is scheduled to attend events in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut in the coming weeks.