Maintaining US combat troops in Iraq "helps Al-Qaeda" and Washington should pull them from the ravaged country if it wants to see progress in the war on terror, former US anti-terror czar Richard Clarke said Tuesday.
"I think the best thing that we could do to hit Al-Qaeda's attractiveness to the Muslim world was in fact to get out of Iraq in an orderly way over the course of the next two or three years," Clarke said on CNN.
"Our being in Iraq helps Al-Qaeda," he added.
"We have to beat them in the ideological struggle. Getting out of Iraq will help that."
The US presence in Iraq has become a flashpoint issue in the 2008 presidential race. Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have both said they will withdraw troops if elected, while Republican John McCain supports the war in Iraq but recently said he envisioned most troops could be home by 2013.
Clarke said that wasn't soon enough.
The security and counter-terrorism advisor to three US presidents who resigned in the first term of President George W. Bush's administration, also said Washington should reassure Muslim nations that the "war on terror" launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks is not a war on Islam.
"We're not fighting Islam," he said.
"And it's not terrorism we're fighting, it's the fundamentalist Islamic movements that use terrorism as part of their overall approach."
In 2006 Clarke said US security can easily be beaten and the country remained vulnerable to attack -- an assessment he reiterated Tuesday by warning that despite "hundreds of billions of dollars" spent on securing US borders, "no significant vulnerability in homeland security has been removed."
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