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Kennedy calls case for Iraq war `a fraud'

The case for going to war against Iraq was a fraud "made up in Texas" to give Republicans a political boost, Senator Edward M. Kennedy said yesterday.

In an interview, Kennedy also said the Bush administration has failed to account for nearly half of the $4 billion the war is costing each month. He said he believes much of the unaccounted-for money is being used to bribe foreign leaders to send in troops.

He called the Bush administration's current Iraq policy "adrift."

The Massachusetts Democrat expressed doubts about how serious a threat Saddam Hussein posed to the United States in its battle against terrorism. He said administration officials relied on "distortion, misrepresentation, a selection of intelligence" to justify their case for war.

"There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically," Kennedy said. "This whole thing was a fraud."

The White House declined to comment yesterday. Governor George Pataki of New York defended President Bush's Iraq policy yesterday, arguing it was a continuation of the battle that began in his home state Sept. 11, 2001.

"This is a president who knew that there were evil forces . . . It's far better to defend our freedom on the streets of Baghdad than on the streets of Boston," Pataki told a gathering of Republican leaders at the Northeast Regional Leadership Conference in Boston.

Later, some of those attending the Republican Governors Association's New England Governors Forum in Boston blasted Kennedy, saying he is politicizing the war.

Governor Mitt Romney, who challenged Kennedy in the 1994 election for a Senate seat,was more restrained than some of his colleagues. "We disagree on some matters. And I'd like to see his specific comments before I address his comments directly," Romney said. "I think there are some things that just have to be above politics and above partisanship."

In the interview, Kennedy said a recent Congressional Budget Office report showed that the Bush administration can account for only about $2.5 billion of the $4 billion spent monthly on the war.

"My belief is this money is being shuffled all around to these political leaders in all parts of the world, bribing them to send in troops," he said.

Of the $87 billion in new money requested by President Bush for the war, Kennedy said the administration should be required to report back to the Congress to account for the spending.

Kennedy said the focus on Iraq has drawn the nation's attention away from more direct threats, including Al Qaeda, the instability in Afghanistan, and the nuclear ambitions of North Korea.

Globe correspondent Brendan McCarthy contributed to this report.

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