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Kerry slams Bush on Iraq; campaigns in Texas

President meets with Mexican leader


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CNN PRESENTS
True Believers: Life Inside the Dean Campaign  premieres Sunday, 8 p.m. ET
THE MORNING GRIND
VIDEO
In his weekly radio address, President Bush hails Iraq's interim constitution.

CNN's Judy Woodruff on 9/11 families' objections to the Bush-Cheney 2004 ads.

CNN's Judy Woodruff talks with Rep. Tom Cole, (R) Oklahoma, about the election year.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry slammed President Bush on his treatment of the U.S. military in Iraq Saturday, citing an admission by a senior military official that U.S. troops went into the war unprepared.

The Massachusetts senator, in the Democrats' weekly radio address, referred to an admission this week by acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee that U.S. troops were not prepared when the president sent them in to topple Saddam Hussein.

"Republican and Democratic leaders were right to join together to say to the Bush administration that this is just unacceptable," Kerry said. (Full story)

"If I am president, I will be prepared to use military force to protect our security, our people, and our vital interests. But I will never send our troops into harm's way without enough firepower and support."

Kerry said that U.S. helicopters in Iraq even now "are flying missions without the best available anti-missile systems" and that "un-armored Humvees are falling victim to roadside bombs and small-arms fire.

"The Bush administration waited through month after month of ambushes and only acted to start manufacturing armored door kits three months ago," he said.

Bush, in his pre-taped radio address Saturday, praised the Iraqi Governing Council, a day after the misgivings of Shiite members canceled the signing of the country's interim constitution. (Full story)

In his weekly radio address, Bush said the new law, when it takes effect, would give Iraqis freedoms they have not had in decades.

"A year ago, Iraq's only law was the whim of one brutal man," Bush said. "Under this law, all Iraqis will be treated equally. No religious or ethnic groups will be favored, and none will suffer discrimination at the hands of the state."

The Shiites stopped Friday's signing ceremony over concerns that part of the interim law gives veto power over the permanent constitution to three Kurdish provinces.

Despite such disputes, Bush said Iraqis are "making excellent progress" toward full sovereignty by June 30 and direct elections by January 31, 2005.

Bush is meeting this weekend with Mexican President Vicente Fox at the Bush ranch in Texas, following a campaign swing in California.

Kerry campaigns Saturday in Bush's home state of Texas, holding a "town hall" event in Houston and a rally in San Antonio. Along with Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, Texas holds its primary March 9. (CNN.com's interactive Election Calendar)

Bush ads outrage some

Some relatives of those killed on 9/11 asked Bush this week to pull his new campaign commercials, saying they are outraged over the use of imagery from the 2001 terrorist attacks. (Full story)

In a news conference organized by the advocacy group September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, two family members of victims and a retired firefighter assailed the president for the ads Friday.

"It upsets me tremendously that Bobby, my son, could be used as a political pawn to be manipulated and at times abused -- it truly makes me sick," said Bob McIlvaine, who lost his 26-year-old son in the World Trade Center attacks.

Rita Lasar, who lost a brother on 9/11, said, "President Bush promised in a speech he gave in 2002 that he would not use the site for political reasons. We believed him; we trusted him. He has broken his promise to us.

"To say that we're outraged is the truth, but it's more than outrage. It's a deep hurt and sorrow that any politician, Democrat or Republican, would seek to gain advantage by using that site."

She added, "We're here today to beg them not to use those ads ... and not make any ads like them."

Retired firefighter Tom Ryan said, "They've deemed it that we're not allowed to see our heroic dead coming back from Iraq, but there, in a commercial to re-elect the president, they're using a dead firefighter to re-elect the president."

The speakers took no position on the presidential race, saying they would not want to see any politician use such imagery in a campaign ad.

Some relatives also complained that Bush is not cooperating with the independent panel investigating the September 11 attacks.

Once the ads began airing Thursday, they drew the ire of numerous relatives of 9/11 victims as well as a local firefighters union that backs Kerry for president.

But some publicly supported the commercials. "It shows you firefighters carrying a brother out, and it shows you the American flag waving over the trade center," said Joe Esposito, a firefighter who lost a brother and a cousin in the attacks. "I have no problem with that."

The ads list a series of challenges that the United States has faced since Bush took office, including the 9/11 attacks, and ends with the tag line "strong leadership in times of change."

Giuliani calls ads 'tasteful'

The Bush campaign defended the ads, saying they're important to show that 9/11 changed America and called for a certain kind of leadership.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who led the city through its struggles after the attacks, came out in support of the ads Thursday and repeated his stance Friday on CNN's "American Morning."

"This was done in a very tasteful way. It's an ad about a group of challenges the president has faced -- the recession, other things and September 11, 2001," Giuliani said. "You'd almost not be able to do the ad and talk about the challenges if you couldn't mention the truth."


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