[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/16/art.mccain515.ap.jpg caption="McCain and Obama continued to tangle over Iraq."] MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (CNN) – Despite a day of criticism, John McCain isn't backing down from comments he made in a Milwaukee suburb Thursday night when he said troop levels in Iraq were back to where they were before January’s surge.
“I said we have withdrawn three of the five [surge] brigades, we have drawn down the Marines, the rest of them will be home by the end of July,” McCain responded Friday when asked if he had misspoken.
On Thursday, he told a Greendale, Wisconsin crowd that “I can look you in the eye and tell you it’s succeeding, we have drawn down to pre-surge levels,” adding that the Iraqi cities of Basra, Mosul and Sadr City are now “quiet.”
Even after all five surge brigades leave, experts estimate there will still be about 10,000 more troops in Iraq than there were prior to the January surge.
On a conference call with reporters, McCain’s campaign accused the Obama campaign and the press of “nitpicking” verb tenses.
“Take the worst possibility here which is that Senator McCain misspoke and that because of the specific words used what he said was not entirely accurate. So what? What does that amount to?” asked Sen. Jon Kyl, a McCain surrogate.
But rather than admit he had not been entirely accurate, McCain continued his effort to highlight Obama's relative inexperience on the ground in Iraq.
“It’s also been 873 days since Senator Obama visited Iraq,” said McCain. “Maybe he would have reached different conclusions about the surge if he had taken the opportunity to go over there and talk to troops on the ground.”
In prepared remarks for a speech in Great Falls, Montana Friday night, Obama is slated to swing back at McCain yet again. “He’s been proposing a joint trip to Iraq that’s nothing more than a political stunt," he is planning to say, according to advance remarks released by his campaign. "He’s even been using it to raise a few dollars for his campaign. But it seems like Senator McCain’s a lot more interested in my travel plans than the facts.”
A McCain spokesman has already responded to the yet-to-be-delivered speech. “If Barack Obama wants facts, we're happy to have a debate based in fact: the fact is Barack Obama has refused to have a one-on-one meeting with General Petraeus, and has avoided a fact-finding visit to Iraq for over 872 days,” a campaign spokesman responded. “The fact is, he fails to grasp that a reckless withdrawal, while it may elevate his political aspirations, it will lead to chaos, danger and increased Iranian influence in the region.”