PORTSMOUTH — Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards took sharp aim at rivals Hillary Clinton and John McCain in a Seacoast Media Group forum on the Iraq war Wednesday.
"The debate I want to have (as the Democratic presidential nominee) is whether or not to end this war," Edwards said. "Sen. Clinton's debate is over how much war there should be.
"Sen. McCain is just a stoked up version of George Bush," the former North Carolina senator said. "Logic tells us his approach won't work."
In front of about 100 people, Edwards laid out his policy on Iraq and how he would address the use of private contractors in that country.
Edwards said, as president, he would withdraw 50,000 American troops from Iraq immediately and all the troops, except for a force no larger than a brigade (3,000-5,000 soldiers) needed to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, within nine to 10 months of taking office.
However, Edwards admitted that strategy carries some risks for which the United States must be prepared, such as an extension of the civil war or even genocide.
"No one can predict what will happen," he said.
In the midst of the outcry over the allegedly unprovoked killing of at least eight Iraqi civilians by private contractors employed by Blackwater USA last month, Edwards used his visit to Portsmouth to announce his plan for ending the outsourcing of security missions to non-military personnel.
Noting that there are approximately 50,000 private contractors operating inside Iraq and calling them "mercenaries," Edwards put forth a five-part plan for controlling their use.
First, he called for returning all security missions to the military. He also called for the expansion of legal oversight and prosecutions of contractors, and the end of what he said was political cronyism in awarding the contracts for these non-military personnel.
Edwards' plan also includes establishing strong quality control and accountability standards, as well as developing a formal evaluation process for contractors in Iraq.
"George Bush's outsourcing of security in Iraq to private industry and political cronies is yet another striking example of his dangerous mismanagement of this war," the former senator said.
"As president, I will end this end-run around the all-volunteer force that has served this country so well and bring all security contractors back within the Pentagon's chain of command."