In one of the strongest White House attacks yet on its critics, Cheney called Democrats "opportunists" who were peddling "cynical and pernicious falsehoods" to gain political advantage while US soldiers died in Iraq.

 

The comments were the latest salvo in an aggressive administration counter-attack on war critics, launched as Democrats step up their criticism of the war and polls show declining public support for the conflict.

 

Cheney repeated President George Bush's charge that Democratic critics were rewriting history by questioning prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction even though many Senate Democrats voted in October 2002 to authorise the invasion.

 

"The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone - but we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history," said Cheney.

 

The vice-president was a principal architect of the war has become a focus of Democratic allegations the administration misrepresented intelligence on Iraq's weapons programme.

 

"Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing force against Saddam Hussein"

Dick Cheney
US Vice President

Cheney said the suggestion Bush or any member of the administration misled Americans before the war "is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city".

 

"Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favour of authorising force against Saddam Hussein," he said in a speech to the conservative Frontiers of Freedom Institute.

 

'Tired rhetoric'

 

Responding to Cheney’s comments, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said "tired rhetoric and political attacks do nothing to get the job done in Iraq".

 

Critics says the US war was based
on a false threat

Reid, who voted to authorise the war and has led the push for a probe into the intelligence, said on the Senate floor that Cheney's speech showed "this administration intends to 'stay the course' and continue putting their political fortunes ahead of what this country needs -- a plan for success".

 

Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry, who also voted for the war in 2002 and whom Bush defeated in the presidential election a year ago, accused Cheney of engaging "in the politics of fear and smear".

 

"It is hard to name a government official with less credibility on Iraq than Vice-President Cheney," Kerry said in a statement.

 

Bush, whose public approval ratings have reached the lowest point of his presidency, has given two speeches in the last five days blasting Democratic critics and trying to use their support for the war in 2002 against them.

 

Twenty-nine Senate Democrats voted in favour of an October 2002 resolution authorising military force in Iraq.

 

'Political advantage'

 

Many have since said it was a mistake based on false or misleading information.

 

"What we're hearing now is some politicians contradicting their own statements and making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war," Cheney said.

 

"The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out"

Dick Cheney
US vice-president

"The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out."

 

Democrats have charged the administration, led by Cheney, manipulated the intelligence on Iraq to justify the war and leaked classified information to discredit critics.

 

Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a top aide to Cheney, was indicted last month for obstructing justice, perjury and lying after a probe into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

 

Plame's husband has said she was outed to get back at him for his criticism of the war.

 

Administration officials have acknowledged intelligence on Iraqi weapons was faulty, but say Democrats, Republicans and foreign intelligence agencies all believed Baghdad had deadly weapons before the March 2003 US-led invasion.

 

"American soldiers and Marines are out there every day in dangerous conditions and desert temperatures - conducting raids, training Iraqi forces, countering attacks, seizing weapons, and capturing killers - and back home a few opportunists are suggesting they were sent into battle for a lie," Cheney said.