Washington (AFP) May 1, 2008
Five years after President George W. Bush stood on a warship deck in front of a banner reading "Mission Accomplished," the Iraq war has again thrust to the forefront of the US presidential campaign.
A new Democratic Party ad highlighting Republican candidate John McCain's suggestion that US troops could be in Iraq for 100 years is a bitter reminder that the war is anything but over, despite Bush's 2003 declaration of an end to major combat operations.
The 30-second Democratic National Committee (DNC) video irked Republicans who scrambled to ask television networks not to broadcast it. The clip, available on the Internet, had some 200,000 hits on Wednesday on YouTube.
"I hope the cable networks will see it as their responsibility to pull the DNC's blatantly false attack ad against Senator John McCain," said Republican National Committee chairman Robert Duncan.
The clip starts with an exchange between an unidentified man and McCain at a meeting in January.
"President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years," the man is heard to say to McCain on the tape. "Maybe 100. That would be fine with me," the Republican senator responds.
The video then shows images of violence in Iraq and superimposed on the screen are "Five Years," "500 billion dollars," and "More than 4,000 dead," referring to US fatalities.
The Iraq war is highly unpopular in the United States, and polls show, linked to the Republicans. It was five years ago Thursday that Bush stood on the USS Abraham Lincoln and announced, "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
Today, around 150,000 US troops are still in combat in Iraq, with no clear idea when a pullout might come.
And conditions are increasingly rough: 49 US troops were killed in Iraq in April, the bloodiest month since September 2007.
McCain is the only US presidential candidate solidly backing the war. His Democratic rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both argued for a prompt withdrawal of US troops.
"Five years after George Bush declared 'mission accomplished' and John McCain told the American people that 'the end is very much in sight' in Iraq, we have lost thousands of lives, spent half a trillion dollars, and we're no safer," Obama said in a statement.
He said it was time to "turn the page on Washington's false promises and failed judgments on foreign policy" and "end a war that should've never been authorized."
Clinton meanwhile, who had voted for the war, praised the "service and sacrifice" of the US forces serving in Iraq, but said they "deserve better."
"The path forward is to use American diplomacy and our allies to allow US forces to come home, and turn responsibility back to Iraq and its people," she said in a statement.
Republicans charge that McCain has been taken out of context.
While not denying he had raised the possibility US troops could remain in Iraq for a century, they say he was never speaking about a 100-year war but rather a US military presence akin to the ones in Japan, Europe and South Korea.
Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean rejected this.
"Now, does anyone think that if you keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years, people won't be attacking them and won't be setting off suicide bombs and won't be having militias go after them? I don't think so," he said on NBC television.
"Most Americans don't think so. What Senator McCain is saying doesn't make any sense. We cannot be in Iraq for 100 years."
Left-leaning activists MoveOn.org has prepared a television ad targeting McCain's "100 years" comment.
In a voiceover, the spot airs McCain saying: "I don't think Americans are concerned if we're there for 100 years or 1,000 years or 10,000 years."
The announcer's voice chimes in: "100 years in Iraq? And you thought no one could be worse than George Bush."
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