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Kerry assails Bush's handling of Iraq

Sen. John Kerry on Monday offered his most detailed critique of President Bush's policies on Iraq, saying that the president had "misled, miscalculated and mismanaged every aspect."

"The invasion of Iraq has made us less secure and weaker in the war against terrorism," said Kerry, who suggested that Saddam Hussein's removal from power had not been worth the price.

"Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell," Kerry said in a speech at New York University. "But that was not, in itself, a reason to go to war. The satisfaction we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."

The president immediately mocked Kerry's latest attack, telling a New Hampshire audience that the opponent he has often accused of flip flops had done it again, continuing what Bush called a "pattern of twisting in the wind with new contradictions of his old positions on Iraq."

Bush also derided Kerry's four-point plan _ getting more help from allies, faster training of Iraqi security forces, speedier reconstruction efforts and a guarantee of Iraqi elections by January _ as simply a description of what the administration is already doing.

"Forty-three days before the election," Bush said, "my opponent has now suddenly settled on a proposal for what to do next, and it's exactly what we're currently doing."

Not so, said Kerry.

He noted that just last week the administration acknowledged that it has spent less than $1-billion of the $18-billion committed a year ago for reconstruction. The week before, he said, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld conceded that the number of newly trained Iraqi security forces was less than half the 210,000 he claimed last February. And with just three months to go before the scheduled elections, he added, the United Nations has less than 25 percent of the personnel it will need to play the central role in supervising the vote that Bush had agreed to earlier this year.

"President Bush owes it to the American people to tell the truth and put Iraq on the right track," Kerry said. "Even more, he owes it to our troops and their families."

Kerry asserted that Bush had offered "23 different rationales" for going to war against Iraq, most of which he said were now discredited. He said the two major claims, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and links to the al-Qaida terrorist network and the Sept. 11 attacks, had been disavowed by the administration's own weapons inspectors, the Sept. 11 commission and senior officials such as Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"Only Vice President Cheney still insists that the Earth is flat," Kerry said, referring to Dick Cheney's continuing assertions that earlier suspicions about Iraq might yet prove out.

Kerry said Bush had been equally misleading about "the facts on the ground" now. American casualties are up since the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis on June 28, he noted _ from 42 U.S. troop deaths in June to 54 in July, 66 in August and 54 as of Monday in September. The 1,100 soldiers wounded during August was the highest total of any month since the invasion, he added, while insurgent attacks on U.S. forces have jumped to 2,700 in August from 700 last March.

A key element in the speech was Kerry's call on Bush to convene a summit meeting of world leaders this week in New York. The goal: to demand that U.N. members make good on the Security Council resolution last June that pledged international help for enhancing Iraqi security, reconstruction assistance and debt relief.

"Three months later, not a single country has answered that call," Kerry said. "And the president acts as if it doesn't matter."

Debate schedule set

Negotiators for President Bush and Democrat John Kerry agreed Monday to three 90-minute debates beginning Sept. 30, including one town-hall format with questions from undecided voters in the audience.

The first debate will be Sept. 30 at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, the second one _ with the town-hall style format _ at Washington University in St. Louis on Oct. 8, and the third at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., on Oct. 13.

There also will be a vice presidential debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland on Oct. 5.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.