McCain takes a hit

Supporters of Barack Obama heaped criticism on John McCain for saying it was "not too important" when American troops will be withdrawn from Iraq.

Supporters of Barack Obama heaped criticism on John McCain for saying it was "not too important" when American troops will be withdrawn from Iraq.

Democrats leapt at the chance to attack the Arizona senator's position on the unpopular war.

But Obama also took a public relations hit on Wednesday when Jim Johnson, a manager of his vice-presidential search team, resigned under criticism over his personal loan deals.

On the third day of their one-on-one bid for the White House - after Hillary Clinton dropped out of the race - both Obama and McCain appeared somewhat off balance as their message machines were gummed up by distractions.

McCain has been a supporter of the Iraq war, particularly last year's decision by the White House to boost troop strengths to bring down raging violence.

He was critical of the early management of the war but supported last year's troop build-up, now being reversed, and said it was successful.

Obama has opposed the war from the outset and promises to bring American troops home within 16 months of taking office.

Their differences got a fresh airing when McCain was asked on NBC television if he had a better estimate for when American forces could leave the country.

"No, but that's not too important. What's important is casualties in Iraq," McCain said. - Sapa-AP

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