WASHINGTON - Top Democrats made scathing attacks on President George W. Bush handling of the crisis in Iraq, one year after Bush triumphantly declared the end of major combat.
Senator Ted Kennedy said the entire Iraq episode "may well go down as the worst blunder in the entire history of American foreign policy," in comments ahead of the May 1 anniversary of Bush's speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln, at which he hailed the US troops who ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam," the Massachusetts senator told the US Senate.
"By going to war in Iraq, President Bush squandered the immense good will of the world community that we had won in the wake of 9/11," said Kennedy, one of the chief backers of Democratic presidential contender Senator John Kerry.
Democrats have criticized Bush ever since his speech on the aircraft carrier one year ago when he spoke to US forces with a banner proclaiming "mission accomplished" in the background.
"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed," Bush said in comments that have been repeatedly replayed and contrasted with the mounting US death toll in Iraq.
Veteran Democratic senator Robert Byrd also harshly judged the president.
"Now, one year later, combat deaths are more than five times that of a year ago when our president celebrated 'mission accomplished'," said Byrd.
"Since that time, Iraq has become a veritable shooting gallery. This April has been the bloodiest month of the entire war, with more than 120 Americans killed," he said.
"Young lives cut short in a pointless conflict and all the president can say is that it 'has been a tough couple of weeks.' A tough couple of weeks, indeed."
Senator Carl Levin, top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, disparaged the administration's "rose-colored" predictions that US forces would be welcomed in Iraq as heroes.
"Our troops would be greeted with embraces and flowers. It would be a cakewalk," Levin said.
"Had our uniformed military been more deeply involved in that planning, it would have been very different, as our military plan for the worst case scenarios, which turned out to be the case," he said.
Democratic lawmakers also criticized plans to turn over power to Iraq on June 30, saying the country is not ready.
"Today, with the transfer of sovereignty scheduled for the end of June, the administration still has no idea who should run the country," Kennedy said.
"Our soldiers deserve a genuine strategy to deal with the continuing crisis," Kennedy said, renewing his call for the involvement of a greater number of UN troops and a scaled-back US military presence.
Levin also lobbied for greater UN involvement in rebuilding Iraq.
"After holding the United Nations at arms length, the administration is belatedly working with the UN -- asking them to help identify an entity to whom sovereignty could be restored by June 30 and that would have credibility with the Iraqi people," he said.
"If we have a chance of succeeding in bringing stability and democracy to Iraq, it will mean learning from our mistakes, not denying or ignoring them,' said Levin.
Copyright © 2004 Agence France Presse.