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US Political Season Centers Around Iraq

The congressional campaign season has begun in the United States. The war on terror and the conflict in Iraq are key issues. VOA’s Peter Fedynsky reports on the latest exchange between President Bush and opposition democrats.

Democrats are hoping to wrestle control of the U.S. Congress away from Republicans in the November election. Party leaders Monday convened in a room near the Senate Chamber in an open call for votes. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois says the American people want changes. "When you ask the American people if it's time for a new direction, two out of three of them say, 'most definitely.'"

Maryland Congressman Steney Hoyer agrees. "We believe we need a new direction, we believe the American people are ready for one."

Retired General Wesley Clark, says yes, it is time for a change. "It's time to change the course, and to do that we must have a change in leadership."

These Democrats argue that Republican policies in Iraq cost too much. More than 2,600 American soldiers have died and at least $300 billion have been spent. Democrats say Americans today are less secure than they were when the war began in 2003.

"Terrorism attacks around the world have increased 400 percent, said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, “regimes in Iran, North Korea, and of course, Syria have destabilized the Middle East and the world."

The White House countered with the release of a National Strategy Report. It says terrorism is not simply a result of hostility to U.S. policy in Iraq. It points out the September 11, 2001 terror attacks occurred before the invasion of Iraq.

President Bush expanded on this point during a speech on Tuesday to the Military Officers Association. "For decades, American policy sought to achieve peace in the Middle East by pursuing stability at the expense of liberty," said the president. "The lack of freedom in that region helped create conditions where anger and resentment grew and radicalism thrived and terrorists found willing recruits."

The president has recently begun to describe Islamic terrorists as totalitarian ideologues akin to 20th century fascists and communists. He says they need to be fought in Iraq so that Americans do not have to fight them at home.

Mr. Bush claims considerable success against terrorists. "Together with our coalition partners, we've removed terrorist sanctuaries, disrupted their finances, killed and captured key operatives, broken up terrorist cells in America and other nations, and stopped new attacks before they're carried out."

But Delaware Democratic Senator Thomas Carper says President Bush should invest as much enthusiasm, interest and time in diplomacy as he does in armed conflict. "He needs to reach out to the international community. He needs to reach out to moderate Arab governments to broker an agreement among the sectarian groups in Iraq to head off a civil war. And we need to work with our allies to establish a real and credible road map to peace in the Middle East."

Public opinion polls indicate that voter dissatisfaction with the situation in Iraq has helped push President Bush's approval rating below 40 percent. Analysts say that could translate into a victory for congressional Democrats in the November election.