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Iraq Remains Contentious Issue in US Presidential Campaign - 2004-09-20

President Bush and Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry are trading charges on Iraq.

The president says John Kerry is inconsistent about Iraq. Mr. Kerry says the Bush administration has hidden the truth from the American people, and as a result, the nation is less safe.

"In Iraq, this administration has consistently over-promised and under-performed. This policy has been plagued by a lack of planning, by an absence of candor, arrogance, and outright incompetence," said Mr. Kerry.

In a speech at New York University, the Massachusetts senator said it is time to ask questions and demand answers. He referred back to his own experience during the Vietnam conflict, when he returned home from military duty and challenged the rationale for war.

"I did so because I believed strongly that we owed it to those risking their lives to speak truth to power. And we still do," he said.

Mr. Kerry talked in tough terms and delivered his strongest attack to date on the president's Iraq policy. He said Mr. Bush has made a series of catastrophic decisions and led America in the wrong direction.

The president responded a few hours later during a campaign appearance in New Hampshire. He said John Kerry's record is full of contradictions about Iraq and added the senator has a habit of twisting in the wind

"He is saying he prefers the stability of a dictatorship to the hope and security of democracy," said Mr. Bush. "I couldn't disagree more and not so long ago, so did my opponent!"

Mr. Bush told his audience in the town of Derry that it is wrong for anyone in a leadership role to send mixed signals about Iraq. The president said his own record is consistent and his resolve is firm.

"For our children and grandchildren to grow up in a safer world, we must defeat the terrorists and the insurgents and complete our mission in rebuilding Iraq as a stable democracy," he said.

From New Hampshire, the president traveled to New York City. On Tuesday, he will address the General Assembly on Iraq and meet in private with a series of world leaders, including interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.