McCain rips Obama's Iraq pullout timetable

KANSAS CITY, Mo., July 17 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John McCain on Thursday ridiculed Democrat Barack Obama's vow to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in 16 months as a political tactic aimed at getting votes.

McCain, an Arizona senator, attacked Obama as the Democrat prepares to go on a foreign trip to the Middle East and Europe that the McCain camp called a rolling overseas campaign event.

Obama in a speech this week stuck by his pledge to withdraw U.S. combat forces from Iraq in 16 months, a policy McCain said would sacrifice the security gains that have recently brought a measure of stability to parts of the country.

"This success that we have achieved is still fragile and could be reversed," McCain said on his campaign bus. "And if we do what Sen. Obama wants to do, then all of that could be reversed," and leave behind chaos and Iranian influence, he said.

In a town hall meeting in Kansas City, McCain said troop withdrawals must be governed by the situation on the ground, "not some artificial, politically inspired" timetable.

Obama is expected to soon go to Iraq and Afghanistan, the two major foreign policy challenges the next president will face. McCain called the visit "long, long overdue."

McCain, who is running behind Obama in public opinion polls, was trying to make a major campaign issue of Obama's Iraq policy in hopes of convincing Americans that the Illinois senator is too inexperienced to be trusted to lead the country as commander in chief.

On his bus, he said he hoped Obama will listen not only to commanders on the ground in the two war zones but also to the troops.

"They'll tell him they don't want to be defeated," McCain said. "They'll tell him that the surge has succeeded," he said, referring to President George W. Bush's 2007 troop buildup.

"They'll tell him that we're winning this war, will win it, if we don't do what he wants to do, which is to set a date for withdrawal."

Having said all that, McCain said he was glad Obama was making the trip, disagreeing with his communications director, Jill Hazelbaker, who told the Fox News Channel:

"Let's drop the pretense that this is a fact-finding trip and call it what it is: the first of its kind campaign rally overseas."

(Edited by Philip Barbara)

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