BOSTON (AP) – Sen. John Kerry called Saturday for Democrats to rally around his plan to pull U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by next July and redeploy some to Afghanistan, arguing that the war on terrorism won’t be won only in Baghdad.

The Massachusetts Democrat, in a speech at Boston’s Faneuil Hall two days before the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, said his party must convince voters that they have a better plan than President Bush to defeat terrorism.

“This starts by leveling with the American people about Iraq’s true position in the overall fight against jihadism,” Kerry said.

“The President pretends again and again Iraq is the central front on the war on terror. It is not now, and never has been. The truth is that his disastrous decisions have made Iraq a fuel depot for terror, fanning the flames of conflict around the world.”

Kerry proposed the July 2007 pullout this summer in a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis. It received just 14 votes.

The military commitment in Iraq weakens the United States’ ability to respond to threats in Iran and Afghanistan, said Kerry, the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2004 and a potential candidate in 2008.

“The Bush-Cheney policies have actually limited our power to act decisively and the regime in Tehran knows it,” Kerry said. “Our troops and our foreign policy are held hostage by the neocon catastrophe in Iraq. Only this White House could call it a plan for victory.”

The November midterm election is shaping up as a referendum on Bush’s policies in Iraq and the war on terror. Democrats say Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld should resign, and that the White House has mishandled the war.

Bush has delivered four speeches this week focused on the war on terror. He asserts that Republicans are more capable of defending the nation from terrorists.

White House spokesman Alex Conant declined to comment. Tara Wall, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said Kerry’s proposal was off base.

“His flawed approach not only would embolden terrorists across the globe, but would weaken our ability to win the war on terror and prevent another 9/11,” she said.

Kerry also called for 5,000 more U.S. troops to be sent to Afghanistan.

“The Taliban now controls entire portions of southern Afghanistan, and just across the border Pakistan is only one coup away from becoming a radical jihadist state with a full compliment of nuclear weapons,” he said.

In 2003, Kerry voted to give President Bush authorization for military action against Iraq. He has said he and others were duped by claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Kerry’s plan calls for a recommitment to diplomacy. The U.S. must re-establish its moral authority around the globe, Kerry said, because Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network is operating in 65 countries.

“If Richard Nixon could send Henry Kissinger to China, surely George Bush can send a real negotiating team to North Korea. If Ronald Reagan could talk to the evil empire, surely we can talk with Iran or Syria,” he said.


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