By BRUCE SCHREINER
Associated Press Writer
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Former President Clinton took a shot Tuesday at the Iraq policy of certain Republican presidential nominee John McCain, comparing Iraqi reliance on the U.S. to someone who never leaves a neighbor's couch after losing his home to fire.
Clinton spoke to more than 3,000 people at a downtown civic center to start a full day of campaigning in Kentucky in support of his presidential candidate wife in the state's May 20 primary.
In an hourlong speech, Clinton said Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the candidate best equipped to lead the country at home and abroad.
Clinton never mentioned Sen. Barack Obama by name during his speech at a downtown civic center in the state capital, but took a potshot at the campaign of his wife's rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.
"One of the most amusing things to me in this election is how all these people who are prominent in the campaign of Hillary's opponent keep saying, `Well, you know the 1990s, they weren't that hot either. They weren't that much better than this decade."'
As the crowd hooted, Clinton then said, "Which part of the '90s did you not like - peace or prosperity?" - repeating a line used by his wife to counter criticism of Clinton's presidency.
On Iraq, the former president said his wife "strongly believes the time has come to bring our soldiers home." If elected, she would instruct the nation's top military leaders to present a plan to start accomplishing that goal, he said.
Hillary Clinton's strategy would include leaving a small contingent of special forces in northern Iraq to counter any efforts by al-Qaida to remobilize, he said.
"She's not for permanent bases," he said.
The ex-president warned that Iraqis will never resolve two overriding issues essential to stability - sharing political power and splitting oil revenue - if the U.S. presence continues indefinitely.
"If they think we're going to stay 100 years, they'll never make these hard decisions," he said. "... Do you make hard decisions before you have to?"
The comment was a jab at McCain, the Arizona senator who declared this week that "we are succeeding" in Iraq and said he wouldn't change course - even as the U.S. death toll rose to 4,000 and the war entered its sixth year.
In the past, McCain has suggested a lengthy U.S. presence in Iraq comparable to that in Korea and other countries, but said a remark that American troops could stay in Iraq for 100 years has been distorted.
To the crowd in Kentucky, Clinton likened the situation in Iraq to someone who takes in a neighbor for a short time after his house burns down.
"But let me ask you something," Clinton said. "If your neighbor's still on your couch after five years, what do you know? You know it's not about the fire anymore, it's about not having to get off the couch. That's where we are in Iraq. It is not about the fire anymore."
From Frankfort, Clinton was headed north and east in Kentucky. He had stops planned in Paris, Maysville and Morehead.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)