Wed, Apr 07, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Iraq is weighing on Bush's mind as November nears

AFP , CRAWFORD, TEXAS

The challenges facing the US-led coalition in Iraq are looming large in President George W. Bush's re-election campaign, while Democrats keep assailing the Republican leader's war strategy ahead of the November vote.

Senator Ted Kennedy, a Democratic Party stalwart, led the charge Monday with another one of his stinging rebukes of Bush's rationale for going to war in Iraq.

"A year after the war began, Americans are questioning why the administration went to war in Iraq when Iraq was not an imminent threat, when it had no weapons, no persuasive links to al-Qaeda, and no connection to the terrorist attacks on September 11th, and no stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons," Kennedy said in a speech to the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank.

Kennedy, a critic of Bush's Iraq policy, is one Massachusetts' two senators. The other one is Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, for whom Kennedy has been vigorously campaigning.

Kerry and Bush are running neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 2 election.

Bush has lost some support for his handling of the war in Iraq.

A Pew Research Center poll released Monday shows the percentage of Americans who disapprove of Bush's handling of Iraq has grown from 37 percent in January to 53 percent this month.

The poll was conducted last week after the killing and mutilation of four US civilians in Fallujah, an Iraqi city still dominated by partisans of deposed president Saddam Hussein.

Pew's poll showed that 57 percent of Americans do not believe Bush has a clear strategy to resolve the situation in Iraq, while 44 percent now say they want US troops to return home. In January, 32 percent said US soldiers should return to the US.

Still, 57 percent of Americans who were polled said going to war in Iraq was a good decision.

Bush is trying to paint himself as the stronger candidate on defense, while he accuses Kerry, a Vietnam war veteran, of being an indecisive politician who flip-flops when faced with major decisions.

But the challenges in Iraq could hurt Bush's tough-on-defense image.

Bush conceded there is work ahead before the hand-over of power.

"The intention is to make sure the deadline remains the same. I believe we can transfer authority by June 30. We're working toward that day," he told reporters.

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