DILLON, South Carolina (CNN) - White House hopeful Barack Obama called the debate over the competency of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a "distraction" Thursday, a day after rival Hillary Clinton called for the embattled leader's removal.
"I think this is a distraction - this whole notion of 'is Maliki the right guy?'" Obama told CNN's Don Lemon. "We can replace Maliki with four, five other guys, but if the underlying political dynamic is not changing, then we will not see progress in Iraq."
On Wednesday afternoon, Clinton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a statement calling for the ouster of the prime minister, saying, "The Maliki government is nonfunctional and cannot produce a political settlement, because it is too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders."
In the interview with CNN, Obama also seemed to echo Clinton's controversial comments from earlier in the week that the surge was "working" in some areas, but reiterated his position that the U.S. should begin an "orderly withdrawal" from the country.
"We know that our troops are performing well under the surge and there has been a temporary reduction in violence,” he said. “But we also know that none of the Iraqi factions have taken seriously the need to come to political accommodation, and we can't create a stable Iraq until that happens - which is why I believe that we need to - more than ever - initiate the kind of responsible, orderly withdrawal that will trigger a change in behavior on the part of the factions.”