Ex-president Bill Clinton’s latest campaign trail appearance for his wife Hillary’s Democratic White House bid threw an unwelcome spotlight Wednesday back on her vote to authorize the Iraq war.

Clinton said in the key state of Iowa Tuesday he had been against the Iraq war “from the beginning” in comments which appeared more robust than his public statements before the 2003 invasion.

Hillary Clinton’s top Democratic rival Senator Barack Obama, who spoke out against the war before the invasion, said he didn’t recall hearing such talk from the former president in 2003.

“If he did, I don’t think most of us heard about it,” Obama was quoted as telling reporters by MSNBC.

Bill Clinton’s intervention revived debate over a war fiercely opposed by Democratic voters who will decide the party’s 2008 presidential nomination.

The former first lady has been repeatedly forced to defend her vote in 2002 to authorize President George W. Bush to use force to disarm Saddam Hussein.

Bill Clinton’s comments appeared less hedged than his public statements before the invasion — but short of an outright contradiction of his pre-war statements.

In November 2002, as the drumbeat towards war mounted in the United States, Clinton had been publicly arguing for more time for UN weapons inspectors.

Then, in March 2003, days before the invasion, Clinton pointed out in an article in Britain’s Guardian newspaper that Saddam Hussein had flouted a UN Security Council resolution giving a final chance to disarm.

“Now it appears that force will be used to disarm and depose him,” Clinton wrote, in an article which came across as implicit backing for military action against Iraq as a last resort after the failure of the diplomatic process.

In a subsequent speech in May 2003, Clinton said he supported Bush’s decision to ask Congress to “stand up against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

Clinton, who remains widely popular among Democrats nostalgic for the former leader’s two White House terms, has been taking an increasingly public role in his wife’s campaign.

But his latest comments reflect the reality that everything he says in the campaign will be closely scrutinized, and any missteps have the power to harm her campaign.

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