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Edwards promises to "crush' al-Qaida

Opening a weeklong Democratic offensive on Iraq, Sen. John Edwards promised Sunday that a Kerry White House would eliminate what he called a "backdoor draft" of Reservists and National Guard members.

On a day when he alone among the presidential and vice presidential candidates campaigned, Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, played up Iraq and promised to "crush" al-Qaida , departing from his standard remarks to emphasize two subjects that polls suggest rank at the top of voter concerns.

Edwards' comments came as Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic Party national chairman, promised a new salvo this week against the Bush administration's policies on Iraq.

Edwards, at a rally in the Philadelphia suburb of Phoenixville, condemned a remark by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican, who suggested Saturday that al-Qaida may find it easier to strike if Kerry were in office.

Edwards said the remark part of a pattern of Republican "fear mongering."

"Let me just say this in the simplest possible terms," Edwards said. "When John Kerry is president of the United States, we will find al-Qaida where they are and crush them before they can do damage to the American people."

Later, at a boisterous rally, Edwards, as Kerry did Friday, accused the administration of concealing plans for a large call-up of Reservists and National Guard troops after the election.

Bush administration officials called the suggestion patently false, but Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who is a ranking member on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, has said Pentagon sources told him it was so. Edwards campaigned with Murtha on Sunday afternoon.

Both Edwards and Kerry have said extended deployments of Reservists and National Guard troops in Iraq beyond their normal tours of duty amount to a form of conscription and are taking a large toll on families back home.

Also . . .

DEATH AT CHURCH FAIR: A carnival ride broke apart during a church fair in Shrewsbury, Mass., Sunday, killing a man and injuring two other people. Shrewsbury police said the spinning-car ride came apart about 2 p.m. near Saint Mary's Church and parochial school. "It was really just a nightmare, a lot of children crying, mothers crying, more blood than I've ever seen," said Kathleen Madaus, 44, of Shrewsbury.

ALASKAN EARTHQUAKE: A powerful earthquake shook the Aleutian Islands on Sunday, but there were no reports of damage on the sparsely populated island chain. The magnitude-6.1 quake hit just before 12:30 p.m., said Coast Guard Petty Officer Jamal Daniels, at the Coast Guard's long range navigation station on Attu.

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