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Kerry in Verbal Attack Mode on Iraq

Times Staff Writer

On a day when President Bush sought to assure the nation on his handling of Iraq, Sen. John F. Kerry on Tuesday touted his own approach to end instability there, reiterating his call for an internationalization of the country’s security and reconstruction efforts.

During a rainy day of campaigning in Providence, R.I., and Boston, and in an op-ed piece published Tuesday in the Washington Post, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee argued that the recent eruption of violence in Iraq was the result of “a failure of diplomacy.”

“As we stand here today, America is carrying virtually the entire burden of Iraq almost alone,” Kerry told donors assembled for a luncheon fundraiser at a Providence hotel.

“Yes, there are some other countries that are participating in small ways. Yes, there are a few other troops on the ground. But who in America doesn’t understand that our more than 110,000 forces or so are bearing the greatest burden?”

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The Massachusetts senator’s increasingly sharp remarks about Iraq are in marked contrast to the more tentative approach he first took after violence exploded there early this month. Initially, Kerry stressed his support for the troops and reiterated his call for more international cooperation.

On Tuesday, however, he was more pointed and sought to make a direct connection between the attacks by Iraqi insurgents and Bush’s handling of the situation.

“There’s obviously been a massive failure of security in the last weeks, and that’s come about because of a failure of judgment about how difficult this was and what we needed to do to accomplish it,” he told a CBS affiliate in St. Louis.

“I still ask the question, ‘Why is America almost alone?’ ”

Speaking hours before Bush addressed the country in a prime-time news conference, Kerry said the president owed Americans an explanation of how the United States planned to restore order in Iraq.

“There are some very unanswered questions about where we’re headed in Iraq,” he told an NBC affiliate in Phoenix.

Kerry has said repeatedly that the United States should involve the United Nations as a full partner in the restoration of an Iraqi government and the rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure.

In his op-ed piece, Kerry wrote that the United States should bolster the standing of U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who is working to negotiate an interim Iraqi government, by pledging to back any plan the diplomat develops that has the support of Iraqi leaders.

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He called on NATO to oversee an operation in Iraq in order to get more foreign troops there, and he said the U.S. should deploy more of its own troops in the short term. The senator also said he would work to bring Iraq’s oil reserves on line to help finance the country’s reconstruction.

Most important, Kerry said, the U.S. must involve other nations in the stabilization of Iraq.

“You have three choices here,” he told about 400 people at a town hall meeting at the Providence campus of the University of Rhode Island. “One, you can cut and leave. That’s unacceptable. Two, you can do exactly what we’re doing today and continue down the road, which is a guarantee of much greater expense to the American people and much greater risk to our soldiers. Or number three, you can work hard to get other countries to take a stake in something they have a legitimate interest in the outcome of. And that’s the route, in my judgment, we should have gone in the first place.”

Kerry spent much of his day raising money. In Providence, about 800 backers contributed about $1 million at a luncheon. On Tuesday evening, nearly 3,000 supporters -- including a slew of Massachusetts officials, plus actor Ben Affleck and singer Stephen Stills -- attended a Boston gala that raised more than $4 million, a record fundraiser in Kerry’s home state.

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Though still greatly outmatched by Bush’s $180-million war chest, Kerry has raised money at a faster-than-expected clip in the last month.


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