Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage alleged Friday that insurgents have stepped up their deadly assaults in Iraq because they want to "influence the election against President Bush," a statement that drew a sharp condemnation from Democratic challenger John F. Kerry's campaign.
More than 200 Iraqis have died since last weekend, and U.S. troops also have been dying at a greater rate this month than in June, when the administration handed authority to an interim Iraqi government.
State Department officials could not offer any intelligence assessments to back up Armitage's statement but said Armitage did not wish to amend or change his remarks, which were made at a joint news conference with his Polish counterpart in Warsaw.
Earlier Friday, however, the State Department deleted Armitage's most direct comments on the issue from the official transcript of the news conference. That was done after a preliminary version of the remarks that included the statements was sent to some officials and journalists.
The earlier version, e-mailed by a U.S. Embassy official in Poland, was attached to an e-mail that noted the transcript was "awaiting clearance."
State Department officials said that the remarks were deleted because Armitage's comments came after the news conference and that there was no intention to hide the statements. The remarks were restored by Friday night to the official transcript posted on the State Department's Web site.
During the news conference, a reporter asked about the escalating violence in Iraq. Armitage said, in part, that officials expected "that the violence will increase, both to try to have an effect on our elections in early November, as well as to try to thwart the ability to have elections in Iraq in January."
After Armitage had apparently ended the news conference by saying "Thank you very much," a reporter asked him to clarify his statement linking the violence in Iraq to the elections, according to the transcript.
"It's quite obvious that they would like to raise costs to President Bush. I think this is their cynical effort to do that and to somehow influence our elections, and they will fail," Armitage said. "They are trying to influence the election against President Bush."
Asked if he meant that insurgents or terrorists were working for Kerry, Armitage replied: "I didn't say that. What I said was that they were trying to influence the election against President Bush."
David Wade, a spokesman for Kerry's campaign, said: "These comments are an outrage and an offense to all Americans. It's even more offensive that the Bush administration thinks they can cover up the indefensible words of the deputy secretary of state."
Although Armitage is apparently the first administration official to link the escalating death toll in Iraq to efforts to defeat Bush, Vice President Cheney drew similar ire from Democrats last week after saying the United States could be hit in a devastating terrorist attack "if we make the wrong choice" on Election Day.