McCain: ‘The war will be over soon’

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio (CNN) — Republican presidential candidate John McCain defended his belief that U.S. troops will need to stay in Iraq for decades Monday but said the unpopular war will soon end “for all intents and purposes.”

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“My friends, the war will be over soon … for all intents and purposes,” Sen. John McCain said Monday.

McCain said his potential Democratic rivals have distorted his January comment that U.S. forces may need to remain in Iraq for up to 100 years. Speaking at a campaign event in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, he said that referred to a long-term American presence similar to those in South Korea or Kuwait.

“My friends, the war will be over soon … for all intents and purposes, although the insurgency will go on for years and years and years,” the Arizona senator said. “But it will be handled by the Iraqis, not by us.”

Nearly two-thirds of Americans now oppose the nearly five-year-old Iraq war, according to a CNN poll taken in mid-January. McCain has been an outspoken supporter of President Bush’s decision to pour nearly 30,000 additional troops into the conflict, a move he and other advocates credit with a sharp reduction in sectarian warfare and U.S. casualties.

“I think that clearly my fortunes have a lot to do with what’s happening in Iraq, and I’m proud of that,” he told CNN.

McCain’s campaign was written off for dead last summer. It rebounded after a staff shakeup about the same time that American fortunes in Iraq appeared to turn. But at a town hall meeting before January’s New Hampshire primary, McCain told a questioner that the United States could have forces in Iraq for “maybe 100” years.

“We’ve been in Japan for 60 years,” he said. “We’ve been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That would be fine with me, as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed.”

Both Democratic contenders, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, now regularly pound McCain over the remark.

“He has said he wants to keep our troops in Iraq — it would be fine with him — for 50 years to 100 years,” Clinton said Monday. “I will start bringing them home within 60 days.” Video Watch McCain’s remarks on War in Iraq »

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McCain said his potential Democratic rivals are less forthcoming about their own predictions last year that the effort to secure Baghdad and its surrounding provinces “would absolutely fail.”

“But all those will be subjects of debate as we move forward.”

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