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Kerry: Iraq trip possible, not on 'front burner'
By (Agencies)
Updated: 2004-03-08 10:16

Democratic White House candidate John Kerry on Sunday left open the possibility of making a trip to Iraq before the Nov. 2 presidential election but said he wanted to avoid any "sense of politicization."

The four-term Massachusetts senator and decorated Vietnam War veteran said he would prefer to have a group of Congressional colleagues -- Democrats and Republicans -- assess the situation in Iraq to help him formulate policy.

"I don't have the power to 'send' people, but as a U.S. senator and the essential nominee of the party ... I do have a responsibility to get the best information possible," he told reporters in Jackson.

On a Southern swing through four states -- Mississippi, Florida, Texas and Louisiana -- that hold nominating contests on Tuesday -- Kerry blamed U.S. President Bush for America's "torn and tattered" international ties over Iraq and "a Grand Canyon of a credibility gap" on jobs, health care, education and the environment.

After winning nine out of a possible 10 states last Tuesday, Kerry drove his last major competitor, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, out of the race. He said he planned to meet with Edwards and one-time Democratic front-runner Howard Dean. Aides said the session with Dean would probably take place this week in Washington.

Kerry, who voted for the war in Iraq but has since been highly critical of the way the president conducted it, said he wanted an assessment by "people that I trust" with the experience and knowledge "to make some judgments as to where we are today" in Iraq.

Asked if he would go to Iraq, Kerry replied: "That's a possibility and it's something that's been discussed, but the time's difficult and the logistics may be difficult and I don't want any sense of politicization in that regard."


Bush and his Republican allies have portrayed Kerry as a Northeastern liberal elitist, a chronic waffler and fence-sitter. They cite his votes against the 1991 Gulf war, for the U.S.-led invasion last year that ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and against Bush's $87 billion request for reconstruction.

"My first instinct is really not to go," Kerry said. "My first instinct is to try to have a group of respected people do this because they have to anyway in the course of Congressional business."

But he did not rule out his own trip to Iraq, adding: "It's just not on the front burner right now."

At the Greater Bethlehem Temple, a Pentecostal church in downtown Jackson, Kerry evoked the spirit of the civil rights era, telling worshipers: "We have an unfinished journey. That march for civil rights is not over."

Quoting the Bible and marking the 39th anniversary of a civil rights landmark, "Bloody Sunday," Kerry recalled powerful images of billy clubs and tear gas used by Alabama state troopers who forcefully broke up a group of 600 civil rights marchers.

The March 7, 1965, event was televised and the brutality of the images helped sway opinion in America in favor of the civil rights movement.

Kerry questioned Bush's credibility, saying the campaign would be a test "to see how much we really remember the words of the scripture, 'What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?"'

He also met head on the criticism of him as a Massachusetts liberal.

"You've lived with the attacks, the distortions and the hollowness of a politics of last resort that divides black from white, rich from poor, Massachusetts from Mississippi," he told the 2,000 strong congregation. "In fact, some people just want us pointing fingers at each other. The reason they do that is so that no one points a finger at them."

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