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Cheney Says Retreat from Iraq Would Threaten US Security

Vice President Dick Cheney has delivered a strong defense of the Bush administration's record in Iraq, and lashed out at critics who suggest that prewar intelligence was distorted as the case was being made to oust Saddam Hussein. Mr. Cheney made his remarks in a speech in Washington.

Mr. Cheney says Iraq is the central front in the global war on terror. The vice president rejected as "dishonest and reprehensible" any suggestions that President Bush or members of his administration purposely misled the American people before the war. "The flaws in the intelligence are plain enough in hindsight, but any suggestion that prewar information was distorted, hyped or fabricated by the leader of the nation is utterly false," he said.

Some administration critics in the U.S. Congress are charging that the military's presence in Iraq has increased terrorism, and created more instability in the Middle East.

Mr. Cheney strongly disagreed, arguing that the decision to invade Iraq was made with the best available intelligence, gathered over a period of years. "American soldiers and Marines serving in Iraq go out every day into some of the most dangerous and unpredictable conditions. Meanwhile, back in the United States, a few politicians are suggesting these brave Americans were sent into battle for a deliberate falsehood. This is revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety," he said.

The most recent debate on the war was sparked last week when Congressman John Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran, respected for his strong support of the U.S. military, said the time has come for U.S. soldiers to be withdrawn from Iraq. This sparked a strong response from the administration.

Vice President Cheney called Mr. Murtha a good man and a patriot, but says any premature withdrawal would send the wrong message to America's enemies. "It is a dangerous illusion to suppose that another retreat by the civilized world would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists, and get them to leave us alone. In fact, such a retreat would convince the terrorists that free nations will change our policies, forsake our friends and abandon our interests whenever we are confronted with murder and blackmail," he said.

Mr. Cheney says he does not believe it is wrong to criticize the war on terror, saying energetic debate on issues facing the country is a sign of a healthy political system.