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McCain, Obama Clash Over Iraq Troop Surge

The presumed Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, continues to accuse his Democratic rival of advocating a defeatist U.S. policy for Iraq. VOA's Michael Bowman reports, the verbal salvo follows the conclusion of Senator Barack Obama's weeklong foreign trip that included stops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator Obama has long advocated a timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, as well as a boost in American forces deployed to Afghanistan.

During his trip, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee was clearly heartened by Iraqi government statements endorsing the concept of withdrawing U.S. troops by 2010, as well as statements by the Bush administration on the need to focus more attention on the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.

But if events of the last week appeared to favor the Obama message on Iraq and Afghanistan, his likely Republican opponent is drawing attention to Obama's opposition to last year's troop surge in Iraq, believed by many to have contributed greatly to the current low levels of violence in the country.

Speaking on ABC's This Week program, McCain accused Obama of taking a politically expedient position on Iraq that would have put America's entire mission in jeopardy.

"He [Obama] does not understand what is at stake here," said John McCain. "And he chose to take a political path that helped him get the nomination of his party. I took a path [in backing the surge] that I knew was unpopular, because I knew we had to win in Iraq. And we are winning in Iraq. And if we had done what Senator Obama wanted done, it would have been chaos, genocide, increased Iranian influence, and perhaps al-Qaida establishing a base again [in Iraq]."

For Obama, the important question is not whether the surge was a good idea, but how best to deploy America's limited military and financial resources going forward, given what he considers an ill-advised U.S. decision to invade Iraq in 2003. The senator spoke on NBC's Meet The Press program.

"There is no doubt, and I have said this repeatedly, that our troops [in Iraq] make a difference," said Barack Obama. "My job as the next commander-in-chief is going to be [to] make a decision: what is the right war to fight and how do we fight it? And I think we should have been focused on Afghanistan from the start. We should have finished that job. We have not. But we now have the opportunity, moving forward, to begin a phased redeployment [from Iraq] and make sure we are finishing the job in Afghanistan."

U.S. public opinion surveys show a tight race between the two presidential contenders, with most Americans rating economic issues as their top concerns.