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McCain: U.S. can win Iraq war within four years

Caren Bohan

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Republican presidentialcandidate John McCain said Thursday he believes the Iraq warcan be won within four years, leaving a functioning democracythere and allowing most U.S. troops to come home.

It was the first time the Arizona senator has put a date onwhen U.S. troops could be withdrawn from Iraq.

The five-year war is unpopular with the U.S. public andMcCain's Democratic rivals for the White House, Barack Obama andHillary Clinton, have pledged to begin bringing U.S. troops homeright away.

McCain has called such promises reckless. He has rejectedwithdrawal timetables and agrees with President Bushthat troop levels should be governed by conditions on the ground.

McCain, who will run against either Obama or Clinton inNovember to succeed Bush in January 2009, laid out a scenario hethought was achievable within his first four-year term.

"By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of theservicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so thatAmerica might be secure in her freedom," McCain said in aspeech in Columbus, Ohio.

"The Iraq war has been won. Iraq is a functioningdemocracy, although still suffering from the lingering effectsof decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension.Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced,"McCain said.

Under that scenario, U.S. troops would still be present, butthose soldiers would not play a "direct combat role" because Iraqiforces would be capable of providing order.

Speaking with reporters after the speech, McCain insisted hewas not talking about a timetable for withdrawal but discussingwhat he believed would be achieved.

"I'm saying that we are succeeding in Iraq and we will havesucceeded further in Iraq in 2013," he said.


McCain also predicted that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Ladenwould be captured or killed within four years and the militantgroup's presence in Afghanistan would be reduced to remnants.

On the economy, he promised taxpayers the option of filingunder a simpler system than the current multilayered code andsaid he would overhaul government spending practices that haveled to "extravagantly wasted money."

Ohio is expected to be a hard-fought state in the generalelection and McCain's visit there came as Obama, the Democraticfront-runner, moves closer to his party's nomination.

Obama has charged that McCain wants to keep the United Statesentangled in Iraq for 100 years, referring to a comment McCainmade in January, when he asked how many years the United Statesmight have a presence in Iraq.

McCain responded, "Maybe a hundred."

He has since said that remark was taken out of context and hewas talking about a troop presence aimed at maintaining stability,like the U.S. presence now in Japan, South Korea and Germany.

McCain said Wednesday he recognized his party's batteredimage posed challenges for him.

"We've got a lot of work to do," McCain said. "I have a lotof work to do." (Editing by Doina Chiacu and Frances Kerry)