COLUMBUS, Ohio – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) said Thursday that Iraq's Ayad Allawi (search) was sent before Congress to put the "best face" on a Bush administration policy that has gone wrong.
Shortly after Allawi, the interim government's prime minister, gave a rosy portrayal of progress toward peace in Iraq, Kerry said the assessment contradicted Allawi's own statements as well as the reality on the ground.
"I think the prime minister is obviously contradicting his own statement of a few days ago, where he said the terrorists are pouring into the country," Kerry said. "The prime minister and the president are here obviously to put their best face on the policy, but the fact is that the CIA estimates, the reporting, the ground operations and the troops all tell a different story."
Kerry was referring to comments Allawi made Sunday on ABC's "This Week." But Allawi also expressed optimism about the mission in that appearance.
"Foreign terrorists are still pouring in, and they're trying to inflict damage on Iraq to undermine Iraq and to undermine the process, democratic process in Iraq, and, indeed, this is their last stand," Allawi said. "So they are putting a very severe fight on Iraq. We are winning. We will continue to win. We are going to prevail."
Allawi told a joint meeting of Congress Thursday that democratic elections will take place in Iraq in January as scheduled, but Kerry said that was unrealistic.
"The United States and the Iraqis have retreated from whole areas of Iraq," Kerry told reporters outside a Columbus firehouse. "There are no-go zones in Iraq today. You can't hold an election in a no-go zone."
Kerry said Bush should convene a summit of international leaders to ask for their help in Iraq. He also said the president missed an opportunity to get foreign support during two days of diplomacy at the United Nations this week.
"The president skedaddled out of New York so quickly he barely had time to talk to any leaders," Kerry said.
The Democrat's campaign also rolled out a new television ad that says while Bush "keeps telling us things are getting better in Iraq ... the facts tell a different story." "Terrorists are pouring into the country. Attacks on U.S. forces are increasing every month. A thousand American soldiers have died," the ad says.
Kerry's remarks and the ad came one day after he told The Associated Press that Bush's statement that a "handful" of people were willing to kill to stop progress in Iraq was a blunder that showed he was avoiding reality.
"George Bush retreated from Fallujah and other communities in Iraq which are now overrun with terrorists and threaten our troops," Kerry said in the brief interview Wednesday. "And even today, he blundered again saying there are only a handful of terrorists in Iraq. I think he's living in a make believe world."
Bush, campaigning in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, said: "It's hard to help a country go from tyranny to elections to peace when there are a handful of people who are willing to kill in order to stop the process. And that's what you're seeing on the TV screens."
Asked about the "handful" remark on Thursday, Bush said, "My point is that a few people, relative to the whole, are trying to stop the march of freedom." He said, "Look, I'm fully aware we're fighting former Baathists and Zarqawi network people. But by far the vast majority of people, among 25 million people, want to live in freedom."
Kerry's voice was scratchy and breaking from a cold on Wednesday. He canceled most public events for Thursday in Columbus and in Iowa to rest his voice, though his words were clear at the firehouse. The campaign said running mate John Edwards would take Kerry's place in Iowa.
Kerry spoke to the AP in West Palm Beach, Fla., shortly before boarding a flight to Columbus and after Vice President Dick Cheney delivered a scathing attack on the Democrat. Speaking to reporters after meeting with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, Cheney argued that Kerry has a penchant for wavering that makes him a weak alternative to a "steadfast leader, which is exactly what we have in President George W. Bush."