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Republican Presidential Hopefuls Hold Debate in Iowa

All but one Republican Party presidential candidates are advocating continued U.S. military operations in Iraq, but most have expressed reservations about unilateral U.S. military action against major terrorist targets in Pakistan. VOA's Michael Bowman reports, the nine declared presidential contenders took part in a televised debate in Iowa, the first state to hold a contest in next year's primary election season.

The wide-ranging 90-minute debate focused on contentious social issues like abortion, along with health care reform, tax policy, and foreign affairs.

When it came to Iraq, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani expressed the consensus view among Republican contenders that it would be a mistake to withdraw U.S. forces at this point.

"We should seek a victory in Iraq, in Baghdad," Giuliani said. "This [battle for Iraq] is part of an overall war against us by the terrorists. It is a battle in that war. America should win that battle."

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee also argued against a rapid pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq, but said nations like Saudi Arabia must play a more constructive role in promoting peace in Iraq, and the United States must end its dependence on foreign oil. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback said Iraq's leaders must show greater resolve in tackling thorny political issues.

Only one debate participant, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, had a radically different proposal for U.S. troops in Iraq.

"Just come home. We just marched in [to Iraq]. We can just come home," Paul said. "We went in there illegally, we did not declare war. It is lasting way too long. We are losing this one, we should not be there."

Arizona Senator John McCain urged patience and resolve when it comes to Iraq, despite setbacks he blamed on the Bush administration's handling of the war.

"All of us feel frustration, sometimes anger and sorrow over what has happened in this war," said McCain. "It was very badly mismanaged for nearly the first four years. We do now have a strategy that is succeeding."

Democratic presidential candidates have taken part in similar events. One Democratic contender, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, recently made headlines when he suggested he would act unilaterally to strike terrorist targets in Pakistan - a statement that has been condemned by the government of President Pervez Musharraf.

Obama also suggested he would be open to meeting with some of America's fiercest critics on the world stage, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

At the Republican presidential debate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had this to say:

"I think Barack Obama is confused as to who are our friends and who are our enemies. We do not go out and say to a nation which is working with us [Pakistan] that we intend to go in there and bring a unilateral attack," he said.

But Rudy Giuliani said unilateral action in Pakistan cannot be ruled out.

"I would take that option if I thought there was no other way to crush al-Qaida, no other way to crush the Taleban, and no other way to capture [Osama] bin Laden," he said.

Most Republican presidential candidates expressed support for continued U.S. efforts to promote democracy around the world, although some suggested the United States should lead by example. Some faulted the Bush administration for pressing for elections in war-town areas before peace, rule of law, and economic progress have been achieved.

Not taking part in the debate was actor and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, who has been raising funds for a presumed presidential bid, but who has yet to formally declare his candidacy. Polls in Iowa show no clear frontrunner in either the Republican or Democratic presidential field.