Bill Clinton told a Philadelphia audience yesterday that the Bush administration needs "to draw down a very substantial number of troops in Iraq this year."

The former president told an audience of more than 1,200 conventioneers that "it is irresponsible to maintain these troop levels," because of the strain on military lives.

"I'm tired of seeing kids coming home" from combat with "loss of limbs, brain damage," he said.

Clinton made the remarks during a question-and-answer session, drawing one of the few moments of applause from an attentive audience.

He did not speak in favor of any presidential candidate, including his wife, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D., N.Y.).

Clinton spoke for an hour, then answered four questions for a half-hour, at an annual trade show of the Advertising Specialty Institute at the Convention Center.

Based in Trevose, Bucks County, the institute serves companies that produce catalogs, magazines, and other marketing material, and holds such gatherings in five cities each year.

Norman Cohn, its board chairman, said in an interview that Clinton's contract forbade Cohn to state his fee.

Clinton earned nearly $40 million in speaking fees in the last six years, $9 million to $10 million of that last year, the Washington Post has reported.

Last year, Clinton spoke on 352 days, the newspaper reported, but often spoke for no fee or for donations to the William J. Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit involved in causes such as the fight against AIDS. Only about 20 percent of the fees he earned speaking went into his pocket.

Clinton's speech yesterday wrapped the global fight against AIDS into his message that the United States needs to engage further with other nations in an interdependent future.

But it was when he was settled into an armchair onstage after the speech that written questions submitted by the audience elicited his responses about Iraq and the 2008 presidential election.

In calling for a substantial drawdown of troops this year, Clinton said enough U.S. forces should remain in Iraq and the region to maintain order if the country's Sunni provinces disintegrated. He also said U.S. intelligence agencies should maintain a substantial presence in the friendly Kurdish region in northern Iraq to help maintain stability.

He praised Sens. Joseph Biden (D., Del.) and Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.) for drafting the legislation that allowed President Bush to send troops to Iraq, although he did not comment on his wife's support of the bill.

Asked about qualities necessary in the next president, Clinton did not mention his wife.

But he returned to the core of his speech about requiring the nation to focus on global interdependence.

Clinton noted that opinion polls in Indonesia changed drastically in favor of Americans after the U.S. military brought relief following the 2004 tsunami.

Clinton said the political head of the Tamil Tiger organization in Sri Lanka had told him that, although offended that his group was still on a terrorist list, he felt that the United States appreciated that the Tamil had been oppressed.

"You need the little people," he said, "to get the sense that America is pulling for them."

Clinton earned $31 million in speeches from Feb. 5, 2001, through Dec. 13, 2005, the Post reported, citing ethics reports filed by his wife.

In 2005, according to an event-by-event list attached to the reports, the lowest fee he was paid was $100,000 - once for a Hong Kong event and once for a Chicago speech to the Windy City Chapter of a business group, Young Presidents' Organization.

The highest fee was $350,000 - once for a Canary Island event, and once for a Toronto appearance before the motivational organization Power Within Inc.

The Post reported that Clinton's most recent local appearances, each for $125,000, were before the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce in 2005, the Star Forum in Cherry Hill in 2004, the Greenwood House in Trenton in 2003, and the Old York Road Temple Beth Am in Abington in 2001.

Contact staff writer Walter F. Naedele at 610-701-7614 or wnaedele@phillynews.com.