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Thu 13 May 2004 04:00 AM

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Moment of truth in the reconstruction of Iraq

Senator John Kerry claims it is make or break for Iraq and the USA as they seek to rebuild the violence-ravaged country, while President Bush remains defiant

Senator John Kerry has declared that Iraq and the United States face “a moment of truth” as they seek to rebuild the war-torn country, while President Bush insisted from the White House that “we’re making progress.”

Kerry, an advocate of the internationalisation of the rebuilding process, said that an international high commissioner needed to be named and urged NATO play a more significant part in security and reconstruction. He also called for France, Russia, China and Britain to take on major roles.

The exchange came on the eve of the one-year anniversary of Bush’s visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln, where he declared that major combat operations had ended. A banner on the Lincoln declared, ‘Mission Accomplished.’

“I don’t think there’s anyone in this room today or 6000 miles away who doesn’t wish that those words had been true,” Kerry said at Westminster College, where vice president Dick Cheney had spoken four days earlier.

Kerry seemed determined to create a contrast with Cheney’s aggressive speech and he delivered a sober assessment of the reconstruction of Iraq and the problems the country faces.

“This anniversary is not a time to shout,” Kerry said. “It is not a time for blame. It is a time for a new direction in Iraq and for America to work together so that this nation leads in a way that brings the world to us and with us in our efforts.”

Kerry has long urged that the campaign to rebuild Iraq be internationalised. But last week he provided new details, laying out steps for bringing other countries into the effort. He urged other countries from the United Nations Security Council to be brought in “to share the political and military responsibilities and burdens of Iraq with the United States.”

“This may be our last chance to get this right,” he said. “We need to put pride aside to build a stable Iraq.”

Bush defended his speech a year ago, noting that he cautioned the returning troops “that there was still difficult work ahead.”

“We’ve had some tough times,” Bush said. “And we’ve had some tough fighting, because there are people who hate the idea of a free Iraq. They are trying to stop progress.”Kerry, however, ended his speech with a thinly veiled attack at Cheney and his longstanding ties to the controversial Halliburton Corp.

“The Iraqi people desperately need financial and technical assistance that is not swallowed up by bureaucracy and no-bid contracts, but instead goes directly into the hands of grass-roots organizations,” he said.

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