John F. Kerry took aim at the Bush administration's Iraq policies for the fourth day in a row Thursday and said the country's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, was glossing over a failed effort there.
"The prime minister and the president are here obviously to put their best face on the policy, but the fact is that the CIA estimates, the reporting, the ground operation and the troops all tell a different story," the Democratic presidential nominee told reporters in front of a fire station in Columbus.
Vice President Cheney, speaking near Kansas City, Mo., quickly shot back at the Massachusetts senator for criticizing Allawi, who addressed a joint meeting of Congress early in the day. "I must say I was appalled at the complete lack of respect Senator Kerry showed for this man of courage when he rushed out to hold a press conference and attack the prime minister, the man America must stand beside to defeat the terrorists," Cheney told 3,000 supporters, who erupted in boos.
The vice president said of Allawi: "Saddam Hussein sent assassins after him. They tried to hack him to death in his bed."
Cheney called Kerry's criticism of the Iraq campaign an effort to "tear down all the good that has been accomplished" and accused him of being "destructive" to the effort in Iraq and the fight against terrorism.
It was another day of rapid-fire exchanges on the Iraq war, as the Kerry campaign let it be known that the candidate is not ceding the issue of national security to President Bush, and will maintain a multi-pronged effort to criticize the president's choices and leadership in Iraq. The campaign released a new 30-second ad that outlines a bleak situation in Iraq and offers Kerry's solutions for a "fresh start to fix the mess in Iraq."
In Davenport, Iowa, Democratic running mate John Edwards joined in the fray at a women's event focusing on Iraq and national security. "Despite what you may hear from those who are engaged in political opportunism, John Kerry and I will do everything to find these terrorists where they are, to crush them, to destroy them before they can ever do harm to the American people," the North Carolina senator told an audience of supporters that included the mothers and wives of men serving in Iraq, as well as some Sept. 11 widows.
Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband was killed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and who is a founding member of the Sept. 11 commission's family steering committee, told the crowd that she and her late husband voted for Bush, and "we would have liked to have an ally" in advocating for the panel. Bush initially resisted its formation. "But the only way we will be safer in this nation is if we have Senator Kerry as our president."
Kerry -- his voice hoarse from a cold -- gave remarks that were among his strongest yet, accusing the president of "stubbornly" sticking to his ill-fated postwar plan for the country, and painting a picture of an administration in "disarray" over a course of action.
Speaking shortly after Allawi addressed Congress, Kerry maintained that the interim leader backtracked on an earlier statement that did not paint as rosy a picture. "I think the prime minister is, obviously, contradicting his own statement when he said terrorists are pouring into the country," Kerry said.
Allawi had said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that "foreign terrorists are still pouring in, and they're trying to inflict damage on Iraq to undermine Iraq." But he added on the show that "this is their last stand," saying: "They are putting a very severe fight on Iraq. We are winning. We will continue to win. We are going to prevail."
Kerry also took issue with Allawi's statement to Congress that elections could take place in Iraq by January. "The United States and the Iraqis have retreated from whole areas of Iraq," Kerry said. "There are no-go zones in Iraq today. You can't hold an election in a no-go zone."
The Democrat ridiculed Bush for saying that the CIA was "just guessing" on its Iraq intelligence. " 'Just guessing,' America? The CIA? They're not just guessing. They are giving the president of the United States their best judgment," Kerry said. "It's called an analysis and the president ought to read it, and he ought to study it and he ought to respond to it."
Kerry repeated his charge that Bush has not reached out to allies to help carry the burden in Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Kerry said, "misled" the American people and Congress about the numbers of troops that have been trained for Iraq.
"These are not small miscalculations. These are miscalculations that are costing lives, costing America's reputation in the world."
Kerry canceled a speech on terrorism in Ohio on Thursday because his voice was strained by a cold. The speech, which the campaign said he will give in Philadelphia on Friday, will outline his strategy for combating terrorism as well as assert that the administration is not adequately fighting the larger war on terrorism because it is distracted by Iraq.
On Saturday, Kerry will begin intense preparation for next week's debate with Bush, first in Boston and then at a conference center in Wisconsin. Recent public opinion surveys show Kerry losing support in the battleground state, so he is expected to make some appearances as he readies himself to face Bush for the first time.
Snyder is traveling with Edwards. Staff writer Lisa Rein, traveling with Cheney, contributed to this report.