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Iraq: The Defining Difference Between McCain, Obama


The war in Iraq continues to be a sharp point of difference between the two presumptive U.S. presidential nominees, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has been monitoring the campaign debate and has a report from Washington.

Campaigning in New Jersey, Senator McCain said voters in this election face a stark choice on the war in Iraq.

McCain says the United States is winning in Iraq, and he strongly opposes Senator Obama's plan to begin troop withdrawals shortly after taking office.

"He said the surge could not work and would not work, and to this day, to this very day, Senator Obama refuses to acknowledge that we are winning in Iraq," he said. "He refuses. He called it spin. Is General Petraeus spinning the American people? I do not think so. I do not think so."

Obama was on the campaign trail Friday in Ohio, usually a key swing state in presidential elections.

Obama restated his opposition to the war in Iraq after a voter asked him why the U.S. image abroad has sharply declined in recent years.

"Everybody supported us after 9/11. Everybody supported us going into Afghanistan. Right? It was not until we decided to go into Iraq, without listening to other countries who warned us that it might be a mistake, and George Bush basically ignored world opinion and the facts that there was no connection between 9/11 and Iraq, that is when world opinion plummeted," he said.

The latest campaign jabs on Iraq come at the end of a week of back and forth volleys on the war, which is likely to be a key issue in the November election, along with the weakening U.S. economy.

"McCain is betting that the American people will be persuaded, ultimately, that no matter how angry they seem to be about what is going on in Iraq, we cannot afford to lose," said Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News and a frequent guest on VOA's Issues in the News program. "And, I think that Obama is taking the position that we will not lose, but we do not need to have as many troops there as we do at the moment, and with three-quarters of the American people opposed to the war in Iraq, I think that is an issue that works for Obama better than it does for McCain."

Iraq and the economy will likely be the focus of presidential debates later this year, but how many debates are held remains an open question.

In recent elections, the two major party contenders have taken part in three nationally televised debates, while their vice presidential running mates debate once.

Senator McCain has proposed an additional series of 10 town hall meetings in which he and Senator Obama would appear together to answer questions from voters.

But the Obama campaign has rejected that idea. An Obama spokesman said the presumed Democratic candidate would be willing to take part in one town hall event with McCain and one foreign policy debate, in addition to the three nationally televised debates scheduled between late September and mid-October.