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Kerry turns up the heat over Iraq


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Kerry turns up the heat over Iraq

US Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry has charged President George W Bush with "mismanaging" the Iraq war.

He said the Bush administration had awarded lucrative defence contracts to politically connected companies and turned a blind eye to overcharging.

The comments mark a shift in campaign battleground for Mr Kerry whose team had earlier promised an economic focus.

He said the conflict in Iraq was an abuse both of American trust and taxpayer's money.

Bloated war

"It is clear that almost every aspect of this war, from how we went to how it was conducted, has been mismanaged," Mr Kerry said from his campaign trail in New Mexico.

"All the way to turning a blind eye to the massive overcharging and waste."

Mr Kerry said that members of the Bush administration continued to profit from the conflict, singling out Halliburton, the firm once headed by US Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Halliburton has been accused of overcharging since it was handed a no-bid contract last year.

The Bush campaign countered that Mr Kerry's accusations were "false and baseless."

In a statement his campaign said there was no conflict of interest in the awarding of contracts to Halliburton, and that Mr Cheney is no longer is connected to the company.

Meanwhile Mr Bush chose to focus on domestic issues, telling an audience in Washington that Mr Kerry would damage the economy by raising taxes for small businesses.

Fertile ground

The BBC's correspondent in Washington, Rob Watson, says polls indicate Iraq is a potentially fertile area for the presidential challenger.

Over 50% of voters say they are not happy with the way Mr Bush is handling Iraq, he says.

But, he says, Mr Kerry's room for manoeuvre on the issue is limited as he is not an anti-war candidate or in favour of an immediate withdrawal of US troops.

However a senior aide to Mr Kerry's campaign, Joe Lockhart, says Iraq is "a central issue in the campaign".

"I think you've seen a very aggressive effort to engage the president on the war in Iraq," Mr Lockhart told reporters.

"You will see a lot more of that next week and every week going through the campaign."


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