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Obama, McCain bicker on Iraq

Times Staff Writers

, -- In one of their sharpest exchanges of the presidential campaign, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama clashed over the Iraq war on Monday, with each challenging the other’s credentials on national security.

Meanwhile, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama’s rival for the party’s nomination, went after Obama’s supporters for urging her to exit the race.

McCain lashed out after a Mississippi event that launched the Arizona senator’s weeklong tour of the nation to highlight his military pedigree.

Responding to Obama’s frequent mocking of McCain’s suggestion that U.S. troops might remain in Iraq for 100 years, the Republican nominee-in-waiting said the Illinois senator failed to understand that America has kept forces in Korea, Japan, Germany and Kuwait long after wars in each country ended.

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“In all due respect, it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of history, of how we’ve maintained national security, and what we need to do in the future to maintain our security in the face of the transcendent challenge of radical Islamic extremism,” McCain told reporters on his campaign plane.

“And I understand that, because he has no experience or background in any of it,” McCain added.

Obama and other critics have dogged McCain over his remark in New Hampshire last year that the U.S. might keep troops in Iraq for as long as 100 years.

McCain has stressed since then that he meant that U.S. troops might need to remain to support Iraqi forces, not to wage full-scale warfare.

Campaigning Monday in Allentown, Obama questioned McCain’s judgment -- and that of New York Sen. Clinton -- in voting to authorize the war in Iraq.

“John McCain and Hillary Clinton, they had a chance to make a good decision on the most important foreign-policy issue of a generation, and they got it wrong,” Obama told a crowd of 4,000 at Muhlenberg College.

“There’s only one candidate left who got it right, and that’s who you should want answering that phone call at 3 o’clock in the morning,” he added, alluding to a Clinton ad suggesting that she was best suited to handle a foreign- policy crisis.

Obama also stood by his criticism of McCain for saying U.S. forces could stay in Iraq for as long as 100 years.

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“Barack Obama,” his spokesman Bill Burton said, “doesn’t need any lectures from John McCain, who has consistently misunderstood American national security and the history of the Middle East in arguing for an invasion and 100-year occupation of a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.”

For her part, Clinton emphasized plans to turn around the troubled economy as she campaigned in Pennsylvania.

In satellite interviews with TV stations in North Carolina, Montana and Indiana, she also accused the Obama campaign of trying to pressure her to withdraw and trying to deny a voice in the nomination process to voters in those and other states with upcoming contests.

“A lot of Sen. Obama’s supporters want to end this race because they don’t want people to keep voting,” Clinton told a station in Billings, Mont.

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“People don’t want this election taken away from them by the media or somebody sitting in an office in Washington,” she said.

Asked about the length of the marathon campaign, she quipped: “It’s one of the longest things I have ever done. It’s longer than being pregnant.”

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

Reston reported from Meridian, Miss., and Washington, and Nicholas from Allentown.

Times staff writers Michael Finnegan and Noam Levey contributed to this report.


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