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U.S. Democratic presidential candidates condemn airstrike on Iran, warn of war

Click to play video 'Buttigieg says consequences of Soleimani killing ‘could not be more real’' Buttigieg says consequences of Soleimani killing ‘could not be more real’
WATCH: Buttigieg says consequences of Soleimani killing 'could not be more real' – Jan 3, 2020

U.S. Democratic presidential contenders on Friday condemned the air strike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, saying President Donald Trump’s decision was reckless and could lead the United States to another war in the Middle East.

“President Trump just tossed a stick of dynamite into a tinderbox,” said former Vice President Joe Biden. His campaign released a 30-second online ad that portrayed Biden as “tested and trusted around the world” against Trump’s “erratic, unstable” presidency.

READ MORE: Federal government tells Canadians to consider leaving Iraq

Click to play video 'Sanders accuses Trump of leading U.S. into war with Iran' Sanders accuses Trump of leading U.S. into war with Iran
Sanders accuses Trump of leading U.S. into war with Iran – Jan 3, 2020

“We’re on the brink of yet another war in the Middle East,” said liberal U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. “We’re not here by accident. We’re here because a reckless president, his allies and his administration have spent years pushing us here.”

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The overnight killing of Soleimani, regarded as the second most powerful figure in Iran, was a dramatic escalation of hostilities in the Middle East between Iran and the United States and its allies.

A protracted conflict could reshape an election that has so far been dominated by domestic issues, such as healthcare and money in politics, strategists said. While that could be a plus for the leading Democratic candidates such as Biden, who has stressed his foreign policy experience and credentials, lesser-known contenders could have a harder time being heard.

Click to play video 'Biden says Soleimani killing ‘puts American lives at risk’' Biden says Soleimani killing ‘puts American lives at risk’
Biden says Soleimani killing ‘puts American lives at risk’ – Jan 3, 2020

“The ultimate beneficiary in the Democratic race could be the four candidates in front,” said Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf, referring to Biden, Warren, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

“Nobody behind them will have a chance to reset the race or change things,” said Elmendorf, a Buttigieg supporter who served as chief of staff for former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt.

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The Democratic contenders are set to face voters for the first time in a month, when Iowa kicks off the state-by-state nominating battle on Feb. 3.

READ MORE: In wake of Soleimani’s death, Iran could retaliate with cyberattacks: experts

Click to play video 'Pete Buttigeig calls airstrike of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani an ‘assassination’' Pete Buttigeig calls airstrike of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani an ‘assassination’
Pete Buttigeig calls airstrike of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani an ‘assassination’ – Jan 4, 2020

Public opinion polls show Americans in general are opposed to U.S. military interventions overseas. A survey last year by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found only 27 per cent of Americans believe military interventions make the United States safer, and nearly half said they make the country less safe.

“There are serious questions about how this decision was made and whether we are prepared for the consequences,” said Buttigieg, a former Navy Reserve officer who served in Afghanistan.

Trump said the strike aimed to disrupt “imminent and sinister attacks” on Americans. His fellow Republicans praised the president for restoring American strength and leadership.

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Click to play video 'Schumer says ‘Gang of 8’ wasn’t informed of airstrike that killed Iran general' Schumer says ‘Gang of 8’ wasn’t informed of airstrike that killed Iran general
Schumer says ‘Gang of 8’ wasn’t informed of airstrike that killed Iran general – Jan 3, 2020

“At a time when the president is under impeachment by the Democrats, there’s nothing wrong with him showing strength and resolve in the face of a foreign threat,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, who is close to the White House.

While the Democrats were united in condemning Trump’s decision, there were some distinctions in their responses. Biden and Buttigieg indicated they viewed Soleimani as a security threat who had sowed chaos in the region, whereas Sanders and Warren referred to him more neutrally and called his killing an “assassination.”

Sanders, who has consistently opposed U.S. military intervention overseas, contrasted the strike with his own domestic priorities of universal healthcare, improved infrastructure and steps to combat climate change.

READ MORE: Killing of Qassem Soleimani could endanger Canadian troops in Middle East, experts say

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“We must invest in the needs of the American people, not spend trillions more on endless wars,” Sanders said at a campaign event in Anamosa, Iowa.

Sanders also mentioned his 2002 vote against authorizing war in Iraq, which he frequently uses as a contrast to Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who backed the war.

Tulsi Gabbard, a House member and Army National Guard veteran of the Iraq war who also has opposed U.S. military interventions, said the strike showed “we need to get out of Iraq and Syria now.”

“That is the only way that we’re going to prevent ourselves from being dragged into this quagmire, deeper and deeper into a war with Iran,” she wrote on Twitter, using the hashtag #WWIII.

Click to play video 'Trump calls declaring war on Iran to win an election ‘pathetic’ in since-deleted video from 2011' Trump calls declaring war on Iran to win an election ‘pathetic’ in since-deleted video from 2011
Trump calls declaring war on Iran to win an election ‘pathetic’ in since-deleted video from 2011 – Jan 3, 2020