NEW YORK - US presidential candidate John Kerry was to deliver a major speech on Iraq today as his Republican rival President George W. Bush prepared to unveil his latest proposals to rebuild the country before the United Nations the following day.
Kerry's speech will address "what needs to be done" but will not lay out an exit plan for 140,000 US troops mired in a chaotic and bloody battle with a stubborn insurgency in Iraq, the New York Times said Monday.
The move comes as Bush prepares to address the United Nations Tuesday, on a week when Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is also set to appear at the White House, the US Congress and the United Nations.
The Kerry camp is in the midst of a new offensive focusing on Iraq six weeks before the November 2 presidential vote.
Democratic party officials will hold a news conference with mothers of soldiers stationed in Iraq, according to the Times. New television ads slamming Bush's Iraq policy also debut in selected US states this week.
The veteran senator from Massachusetts is battling to counter Republican charges he has waffled over Iraq after first voting to authorise military action and then opposing Bush's conduct of the war.
The Democrat also spent months urging the country to "stay the course" in Iraq but in August pledged to start pulling out US personnel within six months and replace them with other foreign troops and Iraqi forces.
"We're going to have victory in Iraq. That is critically important for our national security interests, that we not engage in a policy of retreat and defeat, which is what you increasingly hear out of the Kerry camp," said Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie.
Top senators and a leading US newspaper on Sunday sharply criticized optimistic White House descriptions of the situation in Iraq as out-of-step with reality.
"We're in deep trouble in Iraq," Republican Senator Chuck Hagel told a television news program. "We need more regionalization. We need more help from our allies. We need the Iraqi people to come around us in a more supportive way. That means more jobs, more development."
The Washington Post called the president's characterization of events in Iraq "bland to the point of dishonesty," saying that while it may be politically advantageous, "it is also deeply irresponsible and potentially dangerous."
The Post said Bush's record is "one of courage in setting goals and steadfastness in sticking to them but also one of extraordinary recklessness and incompetence in execution."
"Now he tells voters he will stay the course; the way to make that promise convincing is to be honest with Americans about the challenge he now faces -- and to lay out a realistic response to it."
Kerry told supporters in Boston this weekend that he is in "a fighting mood" and reminded them that he has pulled out come-from-behind victories in past hard-fought elections.
Recent polls have given a mixed forecast.
Some show Bush enjoying a double digit lead and some show Kerry drawing even with the president, who broke away from his rival during the Republican convention in early September after months of a neck-and-neck horserace.
Democrats were up in arms meanwhile over comments by a top Republican lawmaker suggesting that Al-Qaeda would prefer to see Kerry in the White House.
Kerry's running mate Senator John Edwards said Dennis Hastert, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, was trying to influence US voters with fear, and likened the comments to one made by Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks earlier.
"Let me say this in the simplest possible terms: when John Kerry is President of the United States, we will find al-Qaeda where they are and crush them before they can do damage to the American people," Edwards said Sunday.
"Over and over, this president and his cronies have taken one of our nation's greatest tragedies and used it as part of a cheap political ploy," Edwards said in a reference to the September 11 terror attacks.
At a fundraiser in Illinois Saturday, Hastert said al-Qaeda would seek to influence the November 2 election and added: "I would think that they would be more apt to go with somebody who would file a lawsuit with a world court or something rather than respond with troops."
Asked if he thought Al-Qaeda would prefer to see Kerry in the White House, he said: "That's my opinion, yes."
The comments called to mind those made earlier this month by Cheney who said: "It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today on November 2 we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again."
He later clarified the remark, saying what he was trying to convey was that Bush would pursue more effective anti-terrorism policies than his Democratic opponent.
© 2004 AFP