Thu, Sep 23, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Kerry, Bush trade barbs on Iraq

DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION Making Iraq the centerpiece of his campaign this week, US Senator John Kerry said the president failed to `level with the world' about the war

AFP , JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA

Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry renewed his pointed attacks on President George W. Bush's handling of Iraq, accusing him of failing to "level with the world's leaders" about the war during his speech at the UN.

The two rivals in the bitterly-fought US presidential election traded barbs on Tuesday over who can best handle Iraq's democratic transition, after Bush demanded that the UN step up its help to the war-wracked nation.

Six weeks from the Nov. 2 election, Bush told the UN General Assembly: "The UN and its member nations must respond to [Iraqi] Prime Minister Allawi's request and do more to help build an Iraq that is secure, democratic, federal and free."

Bush did not mention the election in his speech, but took up the battle afterward, telling reporters that Kerry "has taken so many different positions on Iraq that his statements are hardly credible at all."

At a press conference after Bush's speech, Kerry said the Republican president "failed to level with the world's leaders."

"After lecturing them, instead of leading them to understand how we are all together with a stake in the outcome of Iraq, I believe the president missed an opportunity of enormous importance for our nation and for the world," Kerry told reporters.

The Democrat is vying to hammer home his attacks against Bush in the battleground state of Florida which decided the 2000 election, and was due to make a campaign stop in West Palm Beach yesterday.

"[Bush] does not have the credibility to lead the world," Kerry added.

He said the US leader stood at the General Assembly before a "stony-faced body and barely talked about the realities at all of Iraq."

Kerry has made Iraq the centerpiece of his campaign attacks this week, charging on Monday that Bush's decision to invade Iraq created "a crisis of historic proportions." Tuesday, he said the Bush administration's management of the war has been "arrogant, lacking in candor and incompetent."

Bush, who met with Allawi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, brushed aside Kerry's attacks and countered that the world was safer without Saddam Hussein at the helm in Iraq.

"And that stands in stark contrast to the statement my opponent made yesterday when he said that the world was better off with Saddam in power. I strongly disagree," Bush said.

The Democratic campaign has seized upon the rising US military toll and mounting insurgency chaos to step up its assault on Bush, while Republicans have blasted Kerry by accusing him of constantly changing his position on the war.

A poll released Tuesday indicated Americans are divided on the value of the war: 43 percent believe the Iraq war bolstered the fight against terrorism, while 41 percent said the war undermined it, according to a Harris Interactive poll.

In August, 50 percent of Americans said the war had strengthened the fight against terror while 40 percent did not.

"The almost daily reports of bombings and attacks, kidnappings and continued killing of Americans and Iraqis seem to do little to change public opinion," Harris Interactive said.

"Most adult Americans, it seems, have made up their minds, and neither the recent news from Iraq nor the campaign rhetoric has had much impact on public opinion."

Kerry spoke at his first press conference in six weeks, timed to challenge Bush after the president's address to global leaders, and held in this vote-rich southern state.

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