July 03, 2008

Obama on Iraq, take two (0r three or four or .. )

(CNN) -- Barack Obama called a second news conference in a single day in North Dakota Thursday to reiterate that he is not changing his position on withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq.

Obama speaks on his Iraq policy during a news conference in Fargo, North Dakota, Thursday.

Obama speaks on his Iraq policy during a news conference in Fargo, North Dakota, Thursday.

"We're going to try this again. Apparently I wasn't clear enough this morning on my position with respect to the war in Iraq. I have said throughout this campaign that this war was ill-conceived, that it was a strategic blunder and that it needs to come to an end."

"I have also said that I would be deliberate and careful in how we got out, that we would bring our troops home at a pace of one to two brigades per month and that at that pace we would have our combat troops out in 16 months," he said.

Earlier Obama met with reporters in Fargo, North Dakota, before holding a town hall attended by many military veterans and their families.

In the first meeting, Obama denied any suggestion he's shying away from his proposed 16-month phased withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq, calling it "pure speculation" and adding that his "position has not changed."

However, he told reporters questioning his stance that he will "continue to refine" his policies as warranted.

"We're planning to visit Iraq," Obama said, referring to his recently-announced trip scheduled for later this summer. "I'm going to do a thorough assessment when I'm there." Watch Obama insist that he has not changed his stance on troop withdrawal Video

He was asked if he would consider the removal of all combat troops within 16 months, the Illinois senator did not respond directly. He said only that he will continue to "gather information."

The Republican National Committee put out an e-mail statement saying that Obama was backing away from his position on withdrawal.

On April 10, Obama told an Indiana crowd it may take "16 months to two years" to remove combat troops. In recent speeches, he's left out the phrase "16 months" entirely.

Reporters challenged Obama, asking him if he would stick to his 16-month timetable. Obama said he would remove all combat troops within 16 months.

Obama placed some of the blame for the confusion Thursday on Sen. John McCain's campaign workers.

"I think what's happened is that the McCain campaign primed the pump with the press to suggest that somehow we were changing our policy when we hadn't and that just hasn't been the case," Obama said.

"I've given no indication of a change in policy. I haven't suggested that we're moving in a different direction. I think John McCain's going to have a much harder time explaining how he is willing to perpetuate a presence in Iraq for 10, 20, 50 years."

he McCain campaign responded following the second news conference with a statement accusing Obama of reversing his position on Iraq.

"There is nothing wrong with changing your mind when the facts on the ground dictate it," the statement said. "Indeed, the facts have changed because of the success of the surge that John McCain advocated for years and Barack Obama opposed in a position that put politics ahead of country."

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