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McCain backs Obama Iraq pullout plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Senator John McCain, who battled Barack Obama hard on the campaign trail on the Iraq war, said Friday he supports President Obama’s plans to remove U.S. combat forces from Iraq over 19 months.

“Overall it is a reasonable plan and one that can work and I support it,” McCain told Reuters.

McCain, as a presidential candidate in the 2008 election, had argued that Obama was naive on national security and criticized his pledge to pull U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months.

Asked about those remarks and his position today, McCain said: “Let me just remind you again, this is dramatically different, this is significantly different, this plan compared to his campaign pledge.”

McCain was encouraged that Obama’s plan will leave up to 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq after the 19-month pullout of other forces is complete. Those forces will train and equip Iraqi forces and conduct limited counterterrorism operations.

He was among congressional leaders briefed on the plan at the White House Thursday by top defence officials.

“The military commanders have said there is a moderate risk and so I think it can work,” he said.

McCain said one factor that sold him on the plan was that there will be “very little drawdown between now and the national elections” that are scheduled in Iraq in December.

McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also acknowledged a changing Afghanistan situation.

Obama has made clear his military priority is Afghanistan and said he will send 17,000 additional troops there to bolster efforts to turn back an intensifying Taliban insurgency.

McCain’s support didn’t extend to the $3.55 trillion (2.5 trillion pound) budget blueprint Obama announced Thursday. He said he was “deeply concerned about never-ending deficits.”

The Arizona senator also lashed what he called wasteful spending in a budget bill for the current fiscal year. He said he was sending out by Twitter a Top 10 list of what he considers the most egregious pet projects pushed by lawmakers.

One of those, he said, would allocate $1.7 million to researchers in Iowa to study pig odour.

Editing by Doina Chiacu