The apparent disappearance of tons of explosives from an Iraqi military installation has become an key issue in the final days of the U.S. presidential campaign.
Democratic Party nominee John Kerry says the disappearance, which was reported this week, is the latest in a series of Bush administration blunders in Iraq. But at rallies in states where the race for the White House is tight, President Bush, the Republican Party incumbent, attacked Mr. Kerry's motives.
The president says Senator Kerry is making wild charges before all the facts are known, and suggests the motive is purely political.
"The senator is denigrating the action of our troops and commanders in the field without knowing the facts," said President Bush. "Unfortunately, that is part of a pattern of saying almost anything to get elected."
At a rally at the Lancaster, Pennsylvania airport, and later at stops in Ohio, Mr. Bush spoke for the first time about revelations from the International Atomic Energy Agency that the explosives are missing. He stressed an investigation is underway and took John Kerry to task for alleging American forces failed to find and secure the explosives after the invasion of Iraq.
"Our military is now investigating a number of possible scenarios, including that the explosives may have been moved before our troops even arrived at the sites," he said. "This investigation is important and ongoing and a political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not the person you want as your commander in chief."
The president chose his words carefully. Instead of speaking about the dangers that could be posed by the missing explosives, he focused on the large caches of ammunitions already seized by coalition troops.
"Iraq was a dangerous place run by a dangerous tyrant who had a lot of weapons," said George W. Bush. "We have seized or destroyed more than 400,000 tons of munitions including explosives at thousands of different sights."
His remarks went over well with the highly partisan crowd which cheered as the president delivered attack after attack on his opponent.
"I want to remind the American people: if Senator Kerry had his way, we would still be taking our global test, Saddam Hussein would still be in power, he would control all those weapons and explosives, and could share them with our terrorist enemies," he said. "
Part of the goal for the Bush campaign in these final days is to rally the president's core supporters within the Republican Party. With polls continuing to show the candidates are virtually tied, voter turn-out is likely to be crucial and energizing his political base is essential.
Mr. Bush is also making an appeal to Democrats who might consider crossing party lines. At his stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania, he appeared with Georgia Senator Zell Miller - a Democrat who is backing the president in his bid for re-election.