GOP harsh in Hawkeye State
Republican presidential candidates Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former New York city Mayor Rudy Giuliani talk during a break in the ABC News Republican presidential debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2007. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is seen at right.
(AP Photo/Kevin Sanders)

DES MOINES, Iowa Republican presidential contenders sparred over abortion on Sunday but generally agreed the United States must remain in Iraq as part of the war on terror.

"Just come home," countered Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the lone dissenter on a debate stage when it came to Iraq. He said there had never been a good reason to go to war in the first place.

"Has he forgotten about 9/11?" interjected former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

But it was Romney forced on the defensive on the issue of abortion, when Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback defended automated phone calls his campaign had been making that highlight his rival's one-time support for pro-choice policies.

"It's truthful," Brownback said.

Romney called it "desperate, maybe negative," adding moments later, "I get tired of people that are holier than thou because they've been pro-life longer than I have."

The debate unfolded on a Drake University stage, hosted and carried live by ABC, five months before Iowa caucus-goers begin winnowing the field of White House contenders.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, former New York Gov. Rudy Giuliani and Romney, the most prominent contenders, agreed the United States must remain in Iraq.

Polls consistently show the war in Iraq to be the issue uppermost in the minds of the voters.

But abortion is a constant concern in Republican presidential contests, particularly in Iowa, where caucuses attract the most fervent party activists.