Kerry accuses Bush of lying on Iraq

Assessment too positive, Democrat tells veterans


Sen. John Kerry accused President Bush yesterday of failing to tell the American people the truth about the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

The Democratic presidential challenger, addressing the same National Guard Association convention that heard from Bush on Tuesday, told the gathering in Las Vegas that the commander in chief "failed the fundamental test of leadership - he failed to tell you the truth."

Bush neglected to mention the deaths of more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq over the past 18 months, the doubling in the number of wounded since April, the surge of killings by Iraqi insurgents and the reality that "entire regions of Iraq are now in the hands of terrorists and extremists," Kerry said.

The Massachusetts senator accused Bush of failing to temper his upbeat assessment of Iraq with the findings of a classified CIA report completed in July that painted a bleak picture on political stability, economic recovery and security. CIA analysts warned that U.S. forces could become engulfed in a civil war between Sunni Muslims in central Iraq, Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq and Kurds in northern Iraq.

"True leadership is about looking people in the eye and telling the truth - even when it's hard to hear," Kerry said. "The commander in chief must level with the troops and the nation."

Kerry's comments came as the latest survey by the Pew Research Center showed the presidential race again virtually even. Andrew Kohut, director of the survey, said polling that ended Sept. 10 gave Bush a 15 percentage point lead over Kerry among likely voters, 54 percent to 39 percent. But polling that ended Sept. 14 showed Bush's with "a statistically insignificant" margin of 1 percentage point, 47 percent to 46 percent.

Kerry's attack was his most dramatic attempt so far to transform policy differences into questions of character. Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, has been working to bounce back from attacks by Bush political allies who raised questions about the circumstances surrounding Kerry's receipt of a Silver Star and Bronze Star for valor and three Purple Hearts for combat wounds in Vietnam.

"You deserve a president who will not play politics with national security, who will not ignore his own intelligence, while living in a fantasy world of spin," Kerry said.

Marc Racicot, chairman of Bush's re-election campaign, accused Kerry of "preaching defeat to the American people," sending a signal to allies and enemies "that America is not willing to finish the job" and undermining "great progress" made by U.S. armed forces.

Kerry's evidence of deterioration in Iraq included insurgents kidnapping more than 100 foreigners, the deaths of more GIs since the transfer of power to Iraqis in June than during the invasion, and escalating U.S. casualties. The Pentagon reported 66 killed in August compared with 42 in June.

Bush, campaigning in Minnesota, accused Kerry of taking "about eight positions on Iraq."

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