U.S. can win Iraq war within four years: McCain
By Caren Bohan
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John McCain said on Thursday he believes the Iraq war can be won within four years, leaving a functioning democracy there and allowing most U.S. troops to come home.
The Arizona senator's Democratic rivals for the White House, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, are running on a pledge to begin bringing U.S. troops home right away and have linked McCain's policies on the unpopular war to those of President George W. Bush.
The Democratic candidates also charge McCain wants to keep the United States entangled in Iraq for 100 years.
McCain says any decades-long presence of U.S. troops would be aimed at maintaining stability in the region and has likened it to the U.S. military presence in Japan, South Korea and Germany.
McCain, running in the November election to succeed Bush in 2009, described a scenario he thought he could achieve within his first four-year term.
"By January 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom," McCain said in prepared remarks he was to deliver in Columbus, Ohio.
"The Iraq war has been won. Iraq is a functioning democracy, although still suffering from the lingering effects of decades of tyranny and centuries of sectarian tension. Violence still occurs, but it is spasmodic and much reduced," McCain said.
The Republican senator said that although the United States would still have a troop presence in Iraq, those soldiers would not need a "direct combat role" because Iraqi forces would be capable of providing order.
BIN LADEN, THE ECONOMY
McCain also predicted that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden would be captured or killed within four years and the militant group's presence in Afghanistan would be reduced to remnants.
On the economy, he promised taxpayers the option of filing under a simpler system than the current multilayered code and said he would overhaul government spending practices that have led to "extravagantly wasted money."
Ohio is expected to be a hard-fought state in the general election and McCain's visit there came as Obama, the Democratic front-runner, got another boost by gaining the endorsement of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.
Holding an almost unassailable lead over Clinton in delegates who will pick their party's nominee, Obama has increasingly turned his attention toward McCain.
On Iraq, McCain has argued the Democratic candidates are promising a reckless pullout, a pledge he says they would never be able to keep once they face the realities.
The unpopularity of Bush and the Iraq war has taken a toll on the political fortunes of Republicans.
The party, which lost control of Congress to Democrats in 2006 elections, has suffered some losses in special election contests this year, including a race in Mississippi on Tuesday where Democrat Travis Childers won a U.S. House of Representatives seat in Mississippi.
Vice President Dick Cheney campaigned against Childers and Republican ads tried to link him to Obama, who is viewed by many Mississippians as too liberal.
McCain said on Wednesday he recognized his party's battered image would pose challenges for him.
"We've got a lot of work to do," McCain said. "I have a lot of work to do."
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)