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Bush accused of waging unnecessary war in Iraq
( 2004-01-15 08:43) (Agencies)

A leading opposition U.S. politician accused U.S. President Bush of having forced Americans into an unnecessary conflict in Iraq, where a car bomb killed five people outside a police station.

In other violence two Pakistanis and a Turk in a convoy of U.S. military supplies were killed in a guerrilla attack on Wednesday, and the Pentagon said a growing proportion of "non-hostile" U.S. military deaths in Iraq were due to suicide.

U.S. Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy said Bush had capitalized on fear from the September 11 attacks to put a "spin on the truth to justify a war that could well become one of the worst blunders in more than two centuries of American foreign policy."

Bush, seeking re-election in November, ordered U.S.-led forces to invade Iraq last March to topple Saddam Hussein after accusing the Iraqi leader of possessing weapons of mass destruction. Officials said Baghdad had contacts with al Qaeda.

A U.S. official said a document found with Saddam when he was captured in December warned his supporters to be wary about linking up with foreigners arriving in Iraq to fight Americans.

"The implication is...he can't entirely trust these guys," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Washington has blamed Saddam supporters and foreign Islamic militants, including al Qaeda fighters, for attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq since Saddam was ousted in April.


No weapons of mass destruction have been found so far. Denmark said initial tests showed mortar bombs found this month did not contain any chemical substances as originally suspected.

The U.S. military said five people were killed and 29 hurt in the car bombing in the restive town of Baquba, about 40 miles north of Baghdad. Many victims were Iraqi police.

The U.S. military said it had captured a former leading figure in Saddam's Baath party from south of Baghdad who was on Washington's list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis.

"As a result of aggressive operations this week, the coalition announces the capture of Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, number 54 on the most wanted list," Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt told a news conference in Baghdad.

The Pentagon said at least 21 U.S. troops had committed suicide in Iraq, representing one in seven American "non-hostile" deaths since March.

"Fighting this kind of war is clearly going to be stressful for some people," Assistant Defense Secretary for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder told reporters, adding the military planned to deal with "battle stress" in Iraq.

The proportion of suicide cases was nearly 14 percent compared to 11 percent three months ago.

A total of 496 U.S. troops have been killed since March, 343 in combat and 153 in non-hostile incidents, the Pentagon said.


On the political front, U.S. Governor Paul Bremer's administration in Baghdad signaled it was striving to meet demands, particularly by top Shi'ite Muslim cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, for a more democratic handover of power to Iraqis.

Under a U.S. plan, regional caucuses will select a transitional assembly by the end of May and it will choose an interim government for sovereignty by the end of June. Full elections will follow in 2005.

Bremer has said he respects Sistani, influential with Iraq's Shi'ite majority who were repressed under Saddam, but says there is not enough time to organize an election by June.

U.S. officials said they were reviewing the caucus system.

Underlining Bremer's problems in uniting Iraq's different religious and ethnic groups and smoothing tensions in the region, a senior Iraqi Kurd pressed his people's claim to the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk.

It drew a swift frosty reaction from Turkey which fears the establishment of a separate Kurdish state.

U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow and special presidential envoy James Baker met International Monetary Fund senior officials to discuss Iraq.

No details of the talks were available, but Baker has been tasked by Bush to reduce Iraq's debt which the IMF has estimated at around $120 billion.

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