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Kerry challenges Bush policies on Iraq

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Drawing one of the biggest crowds of his campaign, Senator John F. Kerry whipped up more than 7,000 people here yesterday by challenging President Bush's Iraq policies and accusing the White House of wrapping itself in patriotic rhetoric and the American flag to squash dissent over the war.

Kerry, joined by former rival Howard Dean at a rally in this battleground state, which Al Gore won by just 7,000 votes, made a rare reference to the Iraq prisoner-abuse scandal after pointing out two flags in the downtown plaza, one hoisted by a member of the crowd and another, enormous one hanging behind Kerry.

"The American flag is waving over there, it's standing over here, strong, as we are as a nation," he said. "But I'll tell you this, and you know it in your hearts and you know it in your guts, and Americans increasingly feel this all across our land as people feel it all across this planet: We cannot, we cannot possibly prevail in Iraq if we give up our values in the process."

A few moments later, Kerry said that dissent and "alternative views' should be cherished in America. "That flag does not belong to the Republican Party; it doesn't belong to the Democrats; it doesn't belong to President Bush," he said. "It belongs to all Americans."

Both remarks brought thunderous cheers from the crowd.

Patrick Healy can be reached at phealy@globe.com.

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