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McCain urges more US forces for Iraq

Correspondents in Washington

11/12/05 "
The Australian" -- -- PROMINENT US senator John McCain has called on the Bush administration to send more troops to Iraq, warning that the stakes for the US are higher than they were in Vietnam.

Republican Senator McCain, a former Vietnam War prisoner, attacked proposals by top Democrats to start bringing troops home, and urged President George W. Bush to adopt a new anti-insurgency strategy.

"We must get Iraq right ... I would submit that the stakes are higher than they were in Vietnam," Senator McCain said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, an influential conservative think tank.

"Instead of drawing down, we should be ramping up."

Senator McCain's unequivocal comments came as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Iraq, stopping in the mostly Sunni Arab town of Mosul, 500km north of the capital, to call for all Iraqis to participate in coming elections.

While Dr Rice flew the flag for the US mission in Iraq, Senator McCain said in Washington that bowing to calls by anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan and Democratic senator John Kerry respectively for an immediate or gradual withdrawal from Iraq would be a "fatal mistake" for the US.

He said the result would be civil war in Iraq, which would become a haven for terrorist groups to size up the US for future attacks in the vein of the September 11 strikes.

Senator McCain urged the Bush administration to make "significant policy changes" in the Iraq conflict, which has never been more unpopular in the US, according to opinion polls, and has cost more than 2000 American combat deaths. He urged the Pentagon to adopt a classic anti-insurgency strategy by slowly restoring security to designated areas where reconstruction and normal life could flourish, rather than trying to subdue the whole country at once.

Senator McCain also added his voice to those experts who believe that Washington never had enough troops to secure Iraq after the invasion, saying there was still a need for more boots on the ground.

"Our decisions about troop levels should be tied to the success or failure of our mission in Iraq, not to the number of Iraqi troops trained and equipped," he said.

Mr Bush has said US troops would stand down as the Iraqi armed forces were trained. But hardly any of the more than 100 battalions of Iraqi troops that have been trained are so far able to fight unaided by US troops.

Senator McCain, beaten by Mr Bush to the Republican nomination in the 2000 US election, also faulted the administration for its frequent claims of great progress on Iraq, saying the public did not understand why US troops were still dying daily if things were really going so well.

Also speaking in Washington, Iraqi Vice-President Adel Abdul Mahdi advocated a timetable for training Iraqis to assume the country's security duties but not for the departure of US and other foreign forces.

Mr Mahdi said that by approving a new Iraqi constitution, Iraqis had "voted no to terrorism" and proved their fledgling democracy was making real advances.

"Terrorism" in Iraq is abetted by a "whole regional environment ... including in Egypt" where activities in mosques and even "official propaganda help to mobilise, to recruit, to finance, to give cover to all terrorist acts", he said at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

AFP, AP, Reuters

The Australian

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