SPRINGFIELD, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate John McCain said on Friday he fears that al Qaeda or another extremist group might attempt spectacular attacks in Iraq to try to tilt the U.S. election against him.
McCain, at a town hall meeting in this Philadelphia suburb, was asked if he had concerns that anti-American militants in Iraq might ratchet up their activities in Iraq to try to increase casualties in September or October and tip the November election against him.
“Yes, I worry about it,” McCain said. “And I know they pay attention because of the intercepts we have of their communications ... The hardest thing in warfare is to counter someone or a group of individuals who are willing to take their own lives in order to take others.”
At his campaign event and subsequent news conference, McCain also criticized U.S. Senate Republicans for not joining him and 28 other senators in a one-year moratorium on controversial spending projects, known as earmarks that benefit specific cities or towns and that McCain considers wasteful.
The Arizona senator said it showed that his fellow Republicans were “not responding to the will of the people.”
The Senate on Thursday night voted 71-29 against the moratorium. McCain and Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama, an Illinois senator, and Hillary Clinton, a New York senator, all voted for the legislation.
McCain is a stalwart supporter of President George W. Bush’s troop build-up in Iraq, while sharply critical of the way the war was managed until the increase, and his political fortunes have improved as casualties have declined in Iraq in recent months.
He disagrees strongly with campaign pledges by Clinton and Obama to withdraw U.S. troops speedily if either of them are elected in November.
McCain, soon to depart on a Middle East and Europe trip with two Senate colleagues, said recent deadly attacks in Iraq show that al Qaeda in Iraq is not defeated.
He said is concerned “they might be able to carry out some spectacular suicide attacks but we do have them on the run.”
“We have achieved enormous success but they are still a very viable and tough enemy. There is no doubt in my mind that the surge is succeeding. Thank God for Gen. (David) Petraeus, one of the greatest generals in American history.”
(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/
Editing by Alan Elsner