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Kerry To Do Battle On Iraq

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has decided to make President Bush's Iraq policy the dominant theme of his campaign in the closing weeks of the race, according to published reports.

The president appears eager to accept such a challenge. He has two important war-related events this week, a speech before the United Nations and a White House meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Kerry is wasting no time. The Massachusetts senator is laying out a four-part plan to bring peace to Iraq during a speech today at New York University that seeks to offer a persuasive alternative to Mr. Bush's management of Iraq's reconstruction and the overall war on terror.

Kerry will also argue that Mr. Bush has not been honest about the rationale for war or its costs, according to Kerry campaign officials.

The Democratic National Committee is complementing Kerry's speech with a weeklong focus on what it says is Mr. Bush's "lack of credibility" on Iraq. DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe said Mr. Bush refuses to talk about hundreds of billions that the United States has spent on Iraq or rising American casualties.

The Washington Post reports that Kerry has adopted a two-prong strategy in which he will first challenge Mr. Bush's assertion that Iraq is making progress towards democracy, and then talk of getting U.S. troops out of the troubled Mideast nation over the next four years.

The newspaper said Mr. Bush welcomed such a challenge.

"We believe each day that we're debating the war and debating Iraq, it's an advantage to us," White House communications director Dan Bartlett told the Post.

Separately, Newsweek also reported that the Kerry campaign had decided to put domestic issues and a positive approach on the back burner for a tough critique of Mr. Bush's Iraq policy in the homestretch.

Striking back, Mr. Bush is asking Americans to stick with him on the war. In a speech in New Hampshire today, Mr. Bush will stressing the need for "consistency" in leadership — not a change in the middle of the war, and not a series of contradictions, said campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel.

"Our troops deserve better than to hear Kerry's campaign pushing pessimism and lack of faith in the mission," Stanzel said.

Kerry's new Iraq strategy got a boost of sorts over the weekend, with several GOP senators raising questions about the violence and turmoil in Iraq.

"The fact is, a crisp, sharp analysis of our policies is required. We didn't do that in Vietnam, and we saw 11 years of casualties mount to the point where we finally lost," said Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran who is co-chairman of Bush's re-election committee in Nebraska. He spoke on CBS News' "Face the Nation," a Sunday morning talk show.

Sen. John McCain, another Vietnam War veteran, was asked on "Fox News Sunday" about Bush's often-rosy pronouncements about progress in Iraq. McCain, a Republican from Arizona, said Mr. Bush was not being "as straight as we would want him to be" about the situation.

Nevertheless, whenever the debate turns to Iraq, Republicans are quick to turn Kerry's sometimes confusing positions on the war against him. After voting to give Mr. Bush authority to invade Iraq, Kerry criticized the president for doing so and said Mr. Bush should have pursued more diplomacy first.

Recently, he's said he voted for the authorization because of possible weapons of mass destruction. But he's also said that even if he knew then there were no weapons of mass destruction, he still would have voted for the authorization.