President Bush (searchon Thursday shrugged off polls that suggest most Iraqis see Americans as occupiers not liberators. "I saw a poll that said the 'right track-wrong track' in Iraq was better than here in America," he told reporters.

"It was pretty darn strong," Bush told a Rose Garden news conference with interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search). "I mean, the people see a better future."

The campaign of Bush's Democratic rival John Kerry (search) was quick to respond, issuing a statement asking, "Did Bush really just say this?" Kerry campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart said Bush must be "unhinged from reality" to cite a poll suggesting that there are more Iraqis who feel their country is on the right track than there are Americans who feel the same about the United States.

Bush did not indicate what survey he was referring to, but White House aides cited a poll in Iraq (search) conducted in late August that indicated some 51 percent of Iraqis who were surveyed felt their country was headed in "the right direction," up slightly from a May/June poll.

The number of Iraqis who felt things were heading in "the wrong direction" dropped from 39 percent to 31 percent over the same period, according to the poll by the Iraq Office of the International Republican Institute, a nonprofit group that promotes democracy.

Bush had been asked about earlier polls, including one taken by the Coalition Provisional Authority (search), the U.S.-organized panel that oversaw the Iraqi government before last June's transfer of authority, that showed a majority of Iraqis were unhappy with U.S. policy and wanted the Americans to leave.

Iraqi opinions have changed since the turnover because they "now have got Iraqi leadership. Prime Minister Allawi and his cabinet are making decisions on behalf of the Iraqi people," Bush said.

"Talk to the leader. I'm not the expert on how the Iraqi people think, because I live in America where it's nice and safe and secure. But I'd talk to this man," Bush said.

"There's a lot of polls. Sometimes they show you up and sometimes they show you down, as you might remember," Bush said with a smile.

For the United States, a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll showed 45 percent of those surveyed believed the country was on the right track, 52 percent the wrong track.

Those figures had been worse during the summer, but after the GOP convention in late August and early September, most numbers have been moving up slightly toward the positive, and toward Bush.

Lockhart, the Kerry spokesman, derided Bush's comment. "He just basically said a country that is dissolving into potential civil war, where terrorists have taken over large sections of the country and where Americans can no longer secure four major cities, that the people over there think better of their country than people here in the United States," Lockhart said. "That's what I call unhinged from reality."