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US Presidential Candidates Voice Reaction to Iraqi War Dead Toll  - 2004-09-08

President Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry are both reacting to the news that the U.S. death toll in Iraq has now passed 1000. President Bush says Americans who have sacrificed their lives in Iraq were fighting for freedom. Senator Kerry says the president has mishandled the invasion and put too many lives at risk.

White House officials say the best way to remember the more than 1,000 U.S. troops killed in Iraq is to wage a broad war against terrorism. Officials argue there is a connection between the sacrifices of the U.S troops and the victims of the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington.

Making that connection is one way to soften the potential political impact of the crossing of the 1,000 mark, especially as most of those deaths have come after the president declared an end to major combat operations 17 months ago.

During a meeting with Congressional leaders at the White House, Mr. Bush did not refer specifically to the U.S. death toll in Iraq exceeding the 1,000 mark. But he did say the mission there will ultimately prevail because, he says, liberty changes people.

"Liberty promotes peace, and that is why we appreciate the sacrifice of the men and women who wear the uniform," said President Bush. "They are serving in a great cause. We mourn every loss of life. We will honor their memories by completing the mission."

Speaking in the Midwest city of Cincinnati, Senator Kerry paid tribute to the U.S. soldiers who have died, saying Americans owe it to their memory and to all U.S. troops to do what is right in Iraq. The Democratic candidate says President Bush has made the wrong choices.

"He himself now admits he miscalculated in Iraq," said Senator Kerry. "That's the wrong choice; that's the wrong direction; and that's the wrong leadership for America."

The death toll prompted Congressional Democrats to again criticize the president on Iraq. Representative Jim McDermott of Washington State said Mr. Bush misled the nation into war.

"The president has changed his reasons for going to war so often that we have lost sight of another casualty," he said. "The truth has fallen alongside of those brave U.S. soldiers. We can't bring them back, but we can honor them by demanding the truth on the second of November. It's coming Mr. President."

The war in Iraq is one of the biggest campaign issues ahead of the November 2 general election. President Bush says last year's invasion of Iraq has made the nation safer from terrorist attack. Senator Kerry says the president's failure to build a bigger coalition behind toppling Saddam Hussein has weakened alliances with other countries needed in the broader fight against terrorism.