Sun, Sep 26, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Bush claims `steady progress' in Iraq as Kerry turns up heat

AGENCIES , UNITED NATIONS AND CRAWFORD, TEXAS

US President George W. Bush, under election-year pressure from Democrats and some fellow Republicans over Iraq, promised yesterday to step up the pace of spending on reconstruction contracts in that country despite the violence.

Bush cited what he called "steady progress" in Iraq to counter warnings by his Democratic presidential rival, Senator John Kerry, that the situation in reality was deteriorating.

Bush said more than US$9 billion would be spent on contracts in the next "several months" to rebuild Iraqi schools, refurbish hospitals, repair bridges, upgrade the electrical grid and modernize communications.

Bush said preparations were also under way to conduct "free national elections no later than January."

He said an Iraqi electoral commission had already hired personnel, and UN electoral advisers are on the ground.

The US administration and Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi are also trying to organize an international conference for next month to boost Iraq's electoral process, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a report published yesterday.

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