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Iraq War Anniversary Dominates US Election Campaign

The war in Iraq took center stage in the U.S. presidential election campaign Wednesday on the fifth anniversary of the start of the conflict. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

Democratic contender Barack Obama spoke about the war at a campaign event in North Carolina.

Obama renewed his pledge to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months and took issue with a similar withdrawal plan put forward by his rival for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton.

Obama said voters should trust him more than Clinton to bring the war to a close since he opposed it from the beginning, while Clinton initially supported it.

"Here is the truth," he said. "Fighting a war without end will not force the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future. And fighting in a war without end will not make the American people safer. So when I am commander in chief, I will set a new goal on day one, I will end this war."

During a visit to Detroit, Senator Clinton said the United States cannot win an Iraqi civil war and that there was no military solution in Iraq. Clinton has promised to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq within 60 days of taking office.

On another issue, Clinton also challenged Obama to agree to new Democratic primaries in Michigan and Florida.

"Today I am urging him to match those words with actions, to make sure the people of Michigan and Florida have a voice and a vote in this election," Clinton said.

Both states held primaries in January, but the Democratic National Committee refused to recognize the results and stripped both states of delegates to the national convention because the contests were held too early in violation of party rules. Officials in Florida say they do not plan to hold a new vote.

Senator Obama also took issue with the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, Senator John McCain. Obama said McCain and the Bush administration have failed to present a strategy on how fighting in Iraq makes the American people safer.

McCain was in Israel Wednesday as part of a congressional delegation and said he wanted to affirm a deep relationship and commitment to the Jewish state.

Earlier in the week, McCain visited Iraq and talked about the progress of the U.S-led military surge strategy.

But McCain ran into some trouble on Tuesday in Jordan when he mistakenly said Sunni insurgents allied with al-Qaida were being trained in Iran, which has actually been accused of backing Shiite militias. McCain's mistake was quickly corrected by his Senate colleague, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

"It has been reported in the media that al-Qaida is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran," McCain said. "That is well known, and it is unfortunate. I am sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaida."

Analysts were quick to pounce on the gaff by McCain who has repeatedly emphasized his experience in national security affairs and said he would make Iraq a major issue in the presidential campaign. McCain has criticized both Clinton and Obama for favoring a troop pullout from Iraq.

President Bush also warned about the consequences of a hasty withdrawal in his speech marking the anniversary of the start of the war.

"If we were to allow our enemies to prevail in Iraq, the violence that is now declining would accelerate and Iraq would descend into chaos," he said.

McCain can afford the political luxury of traveling abroad since he has effectively secured the Republican nomination.

But the Democratic battle between Clinton and Obama is expected to continue indefinitely, with the next major test coming in the Pennsylvania primary on April 22.