Obama expects to clinch nomination next week

Senator Barack Obama said on Wednesday he expected to become the Democratic US presidential nominee after next week and he is considering an overseas trip that may include Iraq, Reuters reported.

After a hard-fought primary season against rival Democrat Hillary Clinton, Obama said the general election race will begin in earnest next week after the last two nominating contests are held in South Dakota and Montana.

Talking to reporters on his plane from Denver to Chicago, Obama was asked if the race for the November general election against Republican John McCain begins after Tuesday's votes.

"Yes," he responded. Asked if he will be the winner of the Democratic nomination at that point, he said, "I believe so."

The Illinois senator, 46, predicted he would be in a "pretty strong position" to clinch the nomination after a Saturday meeting by party officials and Tuesday's votes.

On Saturday, Democratic officials will work on a compromise over disputed nominating contests in Michigan and Florida. Obama said a resolution on how to seat those delegates would be important to "put the Michigan/Florida issue behind us."

"At that point all the information will be in," he said. "There will be no more questions unanswered. I suspect that whatever remaining superdelegates will be able to make their decisions quickly after that."

Clinton, a New York senator, has said she will not quit until the last votes are cast and counted. The Democratic nominee is likely to be decided by the nearly 800 "superdelegates" - members of Congress and other party insiders - who are free to vote for whomever they want.

Obama is leading in pledged delegates, and more and more superdelegates are announcing their plans to endorse him and help him surpass the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination.

"We're only a few days away," said Obama, who would be the first black US president.

A sign that he believes he will be the party's nominee is that Obama - who has been criticized especially by McCain for lacking foreign policy experience - is planning an overseas trip, possibly to Iraq.

Obama revealed his plans to The New York Times and a campaign spokeswoman confirmed he was considering a foreign trip and Iraq was one possible destination.

"I just don't want to be involved in a political stunt," Obama told the Times when asked about McCain's invitation to visit Iraq together.

"I think that if I'm going to Iraq, then I'm there to talk to troops and talk to commanders, I'm not there to try to score political points or perform," Obama told the paper. "The work they're doing there is too important."

Aides to Obama have been quietly discussing a foreign trip for weeks, but the prolonged battle with Clinton has delayed making firm plans.

Obama, who says he would remove US combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office, visited Iraq in January 2006 as part of a congressional delegation.

The Republican National Committee on Wednesday launched an "online clock" counting the days since that visit, saying he had done little to educate himself about the war in Iraq.

McCain, an Arizona senator who backs the Iraq war and says he would keep US troops there until the war is won, welcomed word that Obama was considering a trip to Iraq.

"It's long overdue; it's been 871 days since he was there," McCain said in Los Angeles. "I am confident that when he goes he will then change his position on the conflict in Iraq, because he will see the success that has been achieved on the ground."

McCain said Obama does not have the knowledge and experience to make judgments on the situation in Iraq.

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