Barack Obama has denied that he intends to do anything but end the war if he wins the White House, attempting to put an end to speculation that he is inching away from a promise to withdraw combat troops within 16 months of taking office.
Though frequently overshadowed by voters' concerns about the sputtering US economy, the Iraq conflict has emerged as a key difference between Obama and Republican rival John McCain. Obama has called the war a mistake and McCain has strongly supported keeping troops in the country.
The Democrat's comments to reporters on his campaign plane come on the heels of controversy earlier in the week after he indicated that his talks with military commanders during an upcoming visit to Iraq could refine his promise to remove US combat troops. Republicans seized on that statement and accused Obama of reversing course on one of central premises of his candidacy.
Obama said on Saturday he was surprised at the media response to what he "thought was a pretty innocuous statement.
"I am absolutely committed to ending the war," he said.
In two news conferences last week, Obama said any refinement of his position on Iraq would not be related to his promise to remove combat forces within 16 months of taking office, but rather to the number of troops needed to train Iraqis and fight al-Qaeda. But he also acknowledged that the 16-month timeline could indeed slip if removing troops risked their safety or Iraqi stability.
He said Saturday he did not misspeak in his comments earlier in the week and suggested the media and critics read unintended significance into the remarks.