As President Bush dubbed the new law to ensure that members of the Baath party were welcomed back into the fold in Iraq as an “important step toward reconciliation”, the rhetorical battle over the war has erupted on the campaign battlefield.

The argument over voting records on Iraq has been thrashed out before in Democrat debates, but now Clinton and Obama have ripped the gloves off.

Hillary started it. Kicking off the offensive on Meet The Press, she suggested that “Obama had not been as steadfast in his opposition to the Iraq war as he argues now. He gave a speech in opposition to the war 2002, but later made remarks Clinton said amount to waffling,” reports Politico.

Perhaps to deflect attention from Hillary’s controversial LBJ/Martin Luther King statement, the Clinton camp then launched a “multi-pronged attack challenging the consistency of rival Barack Obama’s record on the war,” reports The Huffington Post

“He gave a very impassioned speech against it and consistently said that he was against the war, he would vote against the funding for the war,” she said. “By 2003, that speech was off his Web site. By 2004, he was saying that he didn’t really disagree with the way George Bush was conducting the war. And by 2005, 6, and 7, he was voting for $300 billion in funding for the war. The story of his campaign is really the story of that speech and his opposition to Iraq. I think it is fair to ask questions about it.”

The Obama campaign quickly countered that Clinton was stooping to tactics comparable to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that misrepresented John Kerry’s Vietnam war record during the 2004 campaign.

The rhetorical battle quickly “escalated into a prolonged guerrilla war of charges, counter-charges and counter-counter-charges” as conference calls from both campaign camps went out to the press, reports HuffPo.

Obama was applauded by anti-war activists back in 2002 when he gave a speech opposing the invasion of Iraq during a rally in Chicago. “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars,” he said at the time. The statement came at the same time that Senator Hillary Clinton voted to authorize President Bush to go to war in Iraq.

And now it’s no more Mr Nice Guy for the sweet-talking Senator. He responded to Meet The Press with this statement, reports The Washington Wire:

I have to point out that instead of telling the American people about her positive vision for America, Senator Clinton spent an hour talking about me and my record in a way that was flat-out wrong. She suggested that I didn’t clearly and unambiguously oppose the war in Iraq, when it is absolutely clear and anyone who has followed this knows that I did.

And followed that up by trotting out fellow anti-war Senator Dick Durbin, who’d tell any journalist who’d listen over the weekend:

It was not easy to be against that war back when we cast that vote in October of 2002. I was one of 23 who voted against the war. Barack was supportive – one of the few candidates speaking out strongly against it in Illinois. If President Clinton had opposed that war as strongly as Barack Obama at the time, it would have helped a lot of us who had voted against authorizing an invasion.

“As Durbin is indicating here, had anti-war Senators like himself, Carl Levin, Nancy Pelosi and Russ Feingold had more backing from high-profile national leaders they might have had more success,” says Matthew Yglesias on The Atlantic Monthly website. “Bill and Hillary Clinton were for the war. Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt were for the war. Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke were for the war.”

But why can’t we all just get along? asks Patricia Williams in The Guardian. “This is an extraordinary moment in American history: we have our first serious black and female presidential candidates and they are, indeed, twice as good as their nearest contenders. I hope that the two of them, in whatever order, will become running mates by November,” says Williams. “They must not fall prey to those who would love to see them played against each other in the scramble to be top dog.”

Examine their voting records and you’ll see there aren’t that many differences between the two, says Carol Eisenberg in Newsday. An examination of their Senate careers “shows that despite heated campaign rhetoric, the differences between them are for the most part a matter of style. Although Clinton portrays herself as a centrist, and Obama describes himself as post-partisan, both voted like liberal Democrats more frequently than either might like to admit.”