PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP) - Presidential hopeful John McCain said Friday he stands apart from his Republican rivals on Iraq.
Though all the major GOP candidates agree that U.S. troops should remain in Iraq, McCain stressed his early criticism of the war strategy pursued by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"I fought against it, I railed against it, I predicted it would fail and I urged and pled for the strategy they're using now," he told about 50 people in a law firm conference room.
McCain rebutted a claim during Sunday's GOP debate in Iowa that there is little difference on Iraq between him and rivals Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.
"Someone in the debate the other day said the three leading Republican candidates are the same - Romney, Giuliani and McCain - that's not true," he said. McCain's poll numbers have slid in part because of his unpopular positions on the war and immigration.
Last month, McCain led GOP efforts to defeat legislation to force the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, which he said would lead to chaos and genocide.
He also has urged patience with the war effort even after Gen. David Petraeus' progress report due next month.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, recently said he would wait for that report before deciding what the U.S. should do next in Iraq.
Giuliani, the former New York mayor, has focused on Democrats, calling them "the party of losers" for seeking to set a date for a U.S. pullout.