Wednesday, April 14, 2004

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry yesterday demanded a “specific explanation” from President Bush about how his prosecution of the war will lead to a shared goal of a stable Iraq.

“The last several weeks have made it even clearer to Americans than it was before that this mission is not only not accomplished, it is more challenged than perhaps at any time,” Mr. Kerry said.

Speaking during a fund-raising lunch, the senator from Massachusetts toughened his criticism of Mr. Bush, pointing to the president’s scheduled press conference last night against a backdrop of rising violence in Iraq.

“I believe it is important for the president to not just share with all Americans what we all believe. We know we must succeed, we know we are committed to having a stable Iraq,” he said. “The president owes Americans a specific explanation of exactly how we are going to achieve that.”

Mr. Kerry said he timed his comments to coincide with the approach of the first anniversary of Mr. Bush’s landing on an aircraft carrier to announce the end to major combat in Iraq.

On May 1, the president donned a flight suit and landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Speaking under a banner that declared “Mission Accomplished,” Mr. Bush appeared to be declaring victory in the war.

Mr. Kerry said, “Now we know with an incredible collapse of security in Iraq, we know to what degree those words ‘mission accomplished’ missed the mark and to what degree we remain challenged today.”

In a statement, Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt responded: “It’s outrageous that Senator Kerry would blame the violence and the attacks made by the insurgents on the administration. Senator Kerry does not seem to understand that it is the terrorists who are to blame for the violence in Iraq.”

Mr. Kerry planned this week to focus on soaring college costs while touring campuses, but he was finding the campaign dominated by unrest in Iraq and the growing violence.

When a questioner pressed him to concede that the United States had made a mistake in Iraq, Mr. Kerry said: “I think we’ve already made it clear, many of us, that the way the president went about this was more than a mistake, in the sense that the president broke promises. … He promised he would go to war as a last resort. He broke every one of those promises.”

With the increasing violence in Iraq, the war has taken a more prominent place in the campaign’s debate. Mr. Kerry routinely chides Mr. Bush for not broadening the effort to include more nations.

“I think this is one of the great failures in judgment about how you take a nation to war,” he said.

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