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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 April 2007, 05:49 GMT 06:49 UK
McCain defends Iraq war support
John McCain speaks at the Virginia Military Institute
John McCain accused the Democrats of recklessness on Iraq
Republican presidential contender Senator John McCain has defended his support for the US-led war in Iraq, saying it was "necessary and just".

Speaking at the Virginia Military Institute, Mr McCain accused Democrats of putting politics before US security.

He backed President George W Bush's troop increases, and said he would be right to veto Democrat-backed bills setting a deadline for Iraq withdrawal.

Mr McCain was criticised last week over upbeat remarks on security in Iraq.

The senator, on his fifth trip to Iraq, toured the capital, Baghdad, under heavy military guard, leading critics to accuse him of painting too positive a picture.

'Right road'

Speaking to an audience of cadets in Lexington, Virginia, Mr McCain, repeated his criticism of Mr Bush's early handling of the war.

John McCain (l) with Gen David Petraeus in Iraq, April 2007
Mr McCain said Gen David Petraeus should be given time in Iraq

But he said the recent "surge" in US troop numbers in Iraq under the leadership of General David Petraeus was the right approach.

"We who are willing to support this new strategy, and give General Petraeus the time and support he needs, have chosen a hard road but it is the right road. It is necessary and just," he said.

He criticised Democrats trying to tie war funding to a timetable for withdrawal - a measure George W Bush has said he will veto - as "reckless".

Illinois Senator and Democratic rival Barack Obama said what was needed in Iraq was not more troops but "a surge in honesty".

'Huge gamble'

BBC Washington correspondent Matt Frei says Mr McCain, a former Navy pilot and Vietnam prisoner-of-war, faces an uphill battle to rescue his campaign.

The dilemma for him is that he has attached himself to former foe Mr Bush's policy in Iraq because he genuinely believes that is the right way to go, our correspondent says.

But he has to consistently explain his stance, arguing that Mr Bush - in boosting troop numbers - is now doing what he suggested three years ago, and stressing that he is more interested in winning the war than winning the 2008 race.

It is a huge gamble for Mr McCain, our correspondent says, because it is an unpopular war and it is hurting him in the polls.

Added to that, Mr McCain also reported disappointing first-quarter fundraising figures compared to rival presidential hopefuls from both parties.

It is his second bid for the Republican nomination, having lost out to Mr Bush in 2000.

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