Democrats attack Bush's credibility over Niger uranium claims

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The Independent US

George Bush's personal credibility was under threat as senior Democrats used the Niger uranium controversy to attack him and demand a public inquiry into the affair yesterday.

The issue of whether President Bush knowingly misled the public is fast becoming his government's first scandal. Senior Democrats are using the issue to attack the president and launch their party's nomination for presidential candidate.

Meanwhile polls are showing that public support for Mr Bush is slipping. Senator John Edwards, one of the nine Democratic candidates, told the New York Times: "The most important attribute that any president has is his credibility.

"When the President's own statements are called into question it is a very serious matter. It's important that we not lose sight of the bigger picture, ... the enormous failure that is looming in Iraq right now."

Controversy over the Niger uranium deal exploded last week when the White House admitted that a claim that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Africa - something since revealed as false - should not have been included in the President's State of the Union speech on January 28.

The White House has tried to end the row, saying not only was the British government standing by its claim but that the speech had been cleared by the CIA. Yet the controversy has refused to go away.

A poll published at the weekend suggested that Mr Bush's support has fallen nine points to 59 per cent. While that is still a solid position, the poll also revealed that 38 per cent think he intentionally misled the country.

Mr Bush's critics are widening their attack, scrutinising him over claims that there were links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qa'ida.

Senator Bob Graham, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and a presidential candidate, said: "One of the things that concerns me is the continued reference to the war in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism There is not much evidence to support that linkage."

The Democrats have been unable to criticise the president over the war in Iraq, due to it having been widely supported by the US public.

Now, they are demanding a full inquiry into the claims the government made about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. What this means for Mr Bush in the longer run is not clear.

The Democrats have clearly been invigorated by this issue andIraq could threaten to dominate next year's presidential election campaign.

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