Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain is visiting Iraq, as part of a trip to the Middle East and Europe that highlights his foreign policy and national security experience. In Washington, Democratic candidate Senator Hillary Clinton has given a major speech on the Iraq war, criticizing both McCain and her Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.
Just days ahead of the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Senator McCain is in Baghdad to meet with Iraqi leaders and senior U.S. military officials. He has stressed that he is on a fact-finding mission for the Senate Armed Services Committee, and says he is not there for a photo opportunity for his campaign.
McCain has already clinched the Republican presidential nomination, while his two Democratic rivals remain locked in an extended battle to be their party's candidate for the White House in November.
Senator McCain strongly supported sending additional troops to Iraq last year to improve the security situation so that the Iraqi government would have breathing room for political reconciliation. Speaking to ABC news while in Iraq, he again defended the so-called "surge" of U.S. troops and the Iraqi government, while criticizing Clinton and Obama.
"Senator Obama and Senator Clinton said the surge would never work, it has worked," he said. "Now they say that they [the Iraqi government] can not function politically. They are functioning politically - very poorly, two steps forward and one step back.
Earlier in the presidential campaign, McCain was asked how long U.S. troops would need to remain in Iraq, and he said its possible they could remain for 100 years, if necessary. He tried to explain that comment from Iraq.
"When I said 100 years, it was obviously after the war is over," he said. "After wars are over, we most of the time have a military presence there."
Senator Clinton gave a major speech outlining her Iraq policy. She said McCain would stubbornly continue what she termed President Bush's failed Iraq policy.
"Senator McCain will gladly accept the torch and stay the course, keeping troops in Iraq for up to 100 years if necessary," she said. "They both want to keep us tied to another country's civil war, a war we cannot win. And that, in a nutshell, is the Bush-McCain Iraq policy - 'Do not learn from your mistakes, repeat them.'"
Clinton outlined her policy to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within 60 days if she becomes president, saying she would redeploy one to two brigades per month. She accused Senator Obama of merely giving speeches and making promises on the war, and said he had failed to take action in the Senate until he began running for president.
Speaking on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania Monday, Obama denied that he has been inconsistent on the Iraq war, saying he had opposed it during a speech in 2002 and ever since.
"I opposed this war in 2002, I opposed it in 2003, '04, '05, '06 and '07," he said.
He said Senator Clinton has still not taken responsibility for her vote to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq five years ago.