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Inside Politics

Allawi visit spurs new salvo in White House race

Kerry's 'best face' comment draws rebuke from Cheney

President Bush greets Iraq-bound soldiers during a stop Thursday at Bangor International Airport in Maine.
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Bush and Iraq's Allawi react to criticism of the war in Iraq.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The visit to Washington of Iraq's interim prime minister spurred a new salvo Thursday in the battle for the White House.

Vice President Dick Cheney offered a pointed rebuke of Sen. John Kerry's charge that interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was trying to help President Bush put a misleading "best face" on events on the ground in Iraq.

Calling Allawi a "brave and determined leader," Cheney told a campaign rally in Missouri that he was "appalled at the complete lack of respect Senator Kerry showed for this man of courage."

"John Kerry is trying to tear down all the good that has been accomplished, and his words are destructive to our effort in Iraq and the global war on terror," Cheney said. "As Prime Minister Allawi said in his speech, 'When political leaders sound the siren of defeatism in the face of terrorism, it only encourages more violence.'"

Cheney was referring to Allawi's speech earlier Thursday to a joint meeting of Congress, in which the Iraqi leader thanked the American people for the "enormous sacrifices to liberate Iraq, to assure Iraq's freedom." (Full story)

Allawi described the situation in his country as "a tough struggle with setbacks" but insisted that "we are succeeding."

"As we mourn these losses, we must not forget either the progress we are making or what is at stake in Iraq," the Iraqi leader said. "We are fighting for freedom and democracy, ours and yours. Every day, we strengthen the institutions that will protect our new democracy, and every day, we grow in strength and determination to defeat the terrorists and their barbarism."

Asked later by a reporter in Columbus, Ohio, about Allawi's assessment of progress in Iraq, Kerry said, "I think the prime minister is, obviously, contradicting his own statement of a few days ago, where he said the terrorists are pouring into the country."

"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 operations and the troops all tell a different story."

Reacting to those comments by the Democratic presidential nominee, Cheney characterized them as an "attack" on Allawi, who he said is "the man American must stand beside to defeat the terrorists."

Bush, at a news conference with Allawi at his side, was asked for his response to Kerry's charge that he wasn't leveling with the American public about the difficulties in Iraq.

"It's hard work in Iraq. Everybody knows that. We see it on our TV," Bush said. "My message is that we will stay the course and stand with these people so that they become free."

The president, in a thinly veiled reference to Kerry, went on to say that sending "mixed messages" would make the effort in Iraq more difficult.

"You can embolden an enemy by sending mixed messages. You can dispirit the Iraqi people by sending mixed messages. You send the wrong messages to our troops by sending mixed messages," Bush said. "That's why I will continue to lead with clarity in a resolute way."

In an interview with CNN's Judy Woodruff, Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot said Allawi's views on Iraq were buttressed by the fact that he is "on the ground, an eyewitness watching every day, [with] nothing to be gained other than to tell the American people precisely what it is that's going on there and saying we should take heart, we should see this through."

Kerry: 'Administration in disarray'

Kerry, his voice slightly hoarse from a lingering cold, accused Bush on Thursday of having "an administration of disarray" with conflicting views on Iraq.

In a visit to Fire Station No. 1 in Columbus, the Democratic presidential contender said Bush and the officials under him disagree on the seriousness of the terrorism by insurgents in Iraq.

"Before the war, the president said there that there were lots of terrorists causing the trouble. That's why we had to go to war. Just yesterday, he told the American people that now that we are at war, there are only a handful of terrorists," Kerry said.

"Two days earlier, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said thousands [of terrorists] are crossing the borders and entering into Iraq. It has become a magnet for terrorism," the Massachusetts senator said. He added that Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed.

"We have an administration in disarray, the secretary of defense saying one thing and being corrected, the president saying one thing and being contradicted by the [Iraqi] prime minister, the secretary of state saying one thing and being contradicted by the president. America needs leadership that tells the truth," Kerry said.

"That's how you bring people to the cause, that's how you earn their trust."

Kerry was referring to comments Allawi made Sunday on ABC's "This Week." But Allawi, in the same appearance, also expressed optimism about his country.

"Foreign terrorists are still pouring in, and they're trying to inflict damage on Iraq to undermine Iraq and to undermine the process, democratic process in Iraq, and, indeed, this is their last stand," Allawi said. "So they are putting a very severe fight on Iraq. We are winning. We will continue to win. We are going to prevail."

Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards, was in Davenport, Iowa, on Thursday, repeating his charge that Bush has not done enough to protect America. (Full story)

Other developments

  • Bush this week reached a symbolic milestone, overtaking Kerry in New Hampshire and Iowa to claim more than 300 electoral votes in CNN's weekly Electoral College scorecard. A candidate wins the election with 270 electoral votes, regardless of the popular vote. (Full story)
  • Bush's campaign is urging election regulators to allow it and rival Kerry to raise unlimited individual donations to cover costs for a possible recount, as Bush and rival Al Gore could in 2000. (Full story)
  • The Vietnam veterans group behind a series of commercials attacking Kerry's military record released a new ad comparing him to Jane Fonda for meeting with North Vietnamese and Viet Cong officials during the Vietnam War. Kerry's campaign quickly dismissed the commercial as "junkyard politics." (Full story)

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