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Kennedy ties Iraq criticism to election

Senator accuses Bush of misleading America

WASHINGTON -- Senator Edward M. Kennedy told a national audience yesterday that the Bush administration's Iraq policy has made America less safe because it has been a diversion from the struggle against Al Qaeda and the occupation has been marked by "blunder after blunder," foreshadowing a new election-season speech he is scheduled to deliver today at George Washington University.

Declaring on CBS's "Face the Nation" that "we have to free ourselves from the lies and distortions about Iraq," the Massachusetts Democrat accused President Bush and top administration officials of misleading the country by talking of progress despite mounting violence by an insurgency that controls an increasing portion of the country. He argued that electing the Democratic presidential nominee, John F. Kerry, would mean a fresh start.

"What we are seeing is that we are lost in the quagmire over there," Kennedy said. "Now, John Kerry has offered a plan to try and change this. This administration has had its chance. And it's blunder after blunder. We need a new direction."

Kevin Madden, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, said that Kennedy and Kerry "continue to be heavy on criticism, but light on new ideas."

"Terrorists inside Iraq are trying to stop freedom and democracy from flourishing there and are trying to shake our resolve," Madden said. "Clearly they've succeeded in shaking Senator Kennedy's resolve. The president believes our coalition of allies can and will prevail in stabilizing Iraq and that, as a result, America and the world will be better off and more secure."

Kennedy, however, said it looks increasingly less likely that democracy and the rule of law will emerge in Iraq, blaming the Bush administration's planning of the occupation. He noted that attacks against American soldiers and Iraqis working for the new government have increased in recent months, since the nominal transfer of sovereignty in July.

Kennedy is set to expand on that theme in a blistering speech on the Bush administration's war policies to students at George Washington University today in which he will call Iraq "a quagmire with no end in sight," according to a draft provided to the Globe.

The speech argues that the war created a new breeding ground for anti-American terrorists; gave Al Qaeda time to regroup and provided it with a new recruiting tool; stretched US troops too thinly to adequately stabilize Afghanistan; alienated former friends, especially in the Muslim world; and diverted resources that could have been used to bolster homeland security in the United States and better secure nuclear materials abroad.

"Our president has utterly no credibility when he keeps telling us that America and the world are safer because he went to war in Iraq and rid us of Saddam [Hussein]," Kennedy's speech says.

An early opponent of the Iraq invasion, Kennedy has made four previous major speeches on the war. In April, for example, he told the Brookings Institution that "Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam," sparking a new round of political debate over his harsh characterization of the conflict.

Today's planned address has perhaps the most explicitly political theme to it, as Kennedy repeatedly warns that the nation is less safe with Bush in power because of his "misguided war in Iraq" and "the catastrophic failures resulting from the Bush administration's gross incompetence in managing so many aspects of our occupation of Iraq."

"The president's handling of the war has been a toxic mix of ignorance, arrogance, and stubborn ideology," Kennedy plans to say. "No amount of presidential rhetoric or preposterous campaign spin can conceal the facts about the steady downward spiral in our national security since President Bush made the decision to go to war in Iraq."

Bush and interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi of Iraq have put a brighter face on the situation in Iraq, assuring Americans that elections there would go ahead as scheduled in January and that the Iraqis would soon be able to protect themselves with their own security forces.

But many members of Congress -- including several prominent Republican senators -- have challenged Bush's assessment.

"The fact is we're in trouble. We're in deep trouble in Iraq," Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, said last week.

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