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Iraq War is Key Issue in US Presidential Race


Five years after the start of the Iraq war, many Americans believe the invasion was a mistake and favor bringing U.S. troops home. Those attitudes are playing out daily in the U.S. presidential campaign. VOA's Deborah Tate looks at how the war is affecting the race for the White house and the U.S. economy.

The two candidates seeking the Democratic Party's nomination for president, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, are pledging to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq if elected to the White House.

Senator Clinton has preferred a gradual approach.

"I have also said that I would begin to withdraw within 60 days based on a plan that I asked ... to be put together as soon as I became president. And I think we can take out one to two brigades a month," she said.

Senator Obama has said he will withdraw all combat brigades from Iraq within the first 16 months of his presidency, but he says he will first consult with U.S. commanders on the ground.

"My plan is to get our troops out of Iraq," he said.

The presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, supports President Bush's current strategy and would keep U.S. troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

"We are in Iraq, and our most vital security interests are clearly involved there," he said.

His position is at odds not only with his Democratic rivals, but also with broad American public opinion. Helen Virginia Bush is from Florida.

"My thoughts about the war is that it is a complete tragedy, that it was an unnecessary war," she said.

Paula Litvak lives in Washington.

"I think it should never have happened in the first place. I think it is a totally wrong war for the wrong reasons," she said.

Andrew Kohut tracks public opinion as president of the Pew Research Center in Washington. He says unhappiness with the Iraq war is favoring one party over the other.

"We now see a strong plurality of the American public identifying with the Democratic Party. That is a consequence of the disillusionment with Bush," he said.

Kohut says only 38 percent of Americans still support the decision to invade Iraq.

Among them is Warner Ashby of Maryland.

"I think the war is necessary because I think the terrorist activities that were going on in Afghanistan almost certainly would have continued in Iraq," he said.

McCain says the U.S. was right in going to war.

"I will defend the decision to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime," he said.

Obama and Clinton say money for health care, education and other domestic needs is lacking because of the huge cost of the war.

"We are bogged down in a war that John McCain now suggests might go on for another one hundred years, spending $12 billion a month that could be invested in the kinds of programs that both Senator Clinton and I are talking about," Senator Obama said.

Economic experts agree that the war is weighing heavily on the U.S. economy. Alan Krueger is a professor at Princeton University.

"It has increased the deficit," he said. "We are funding the war with deficit spending. As a result, that is making it harder to borrow money, so that raised interest rates."

It raises the political stakes as well, with both Clinton and Obama reminding Americans of the war's high costs, and their plans to bring American troops home.

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