updated 9/28/2006 4:49:59 PM ET 2006-09-28T20:49:59

President Bush counterpunched at Democrats on Thursday, saying their criticism of the war in Iraq has turned their party into one of "cut-and-run" obstructionists.

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At a GOP fundraiser, Bush accused Democrats of using a new intelligence estimate that ties the war in Iraq to rising extremism to win votes in November.

The National Intelligence Estimate - compiled by leading analysts across 16 U.S. spy agencies - concluded that Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for jihadists, who are growing in number and geographic reach. If the trend continues, the analysts found, risks to U.S. interests at home and abroad will rise.

Party of 'cut-and-run'
The greatest danger to America is not the U.S. military presence in Iraq, but rather a premature withdrawal of U.S. forces from the war-torn nation, Bush said.

With 40 days left before the Nov. 7 elections, Bush is pushing back against Democrats who point to setbacks in Iraq, a resurgence of violence in Afghanistan - and now the new report - as evidence that the nation needs a change in political leadership. 2006 key races

The stakes in the war - and the election - are high, Bush said.

"Five years after 9-11, Democrats offer nothing but criticism, and obstruction and endless second guessing," Bush said. He said the Democratic Party - the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman - has become the "party of cut-and-run."

Challenge to Democrats
If Democrats really believe the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has made America less safe, then they should make that case to the American people, Bush said.

"Saddam Hussein's regime was a serious threat," Bush said, adding that had he not been removed from power, the former Iraqi leader would still be killing innocent people, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and firing at U.S. pilots.

"Americans, Iraqis and the world are safer because Saddam is not in power."

The National Intelligence Estimate, first leaked to newspapers last weekend, has given both political parties new ammunition leading up to the elections, which will determine whether Republicans retain control of Congress.

For Democrats, the report furthers their argument that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 has fanned anti-U.S. sentiments in the Muslim world and left America vulnerable to attacks.

For the GOP, the report provides more evidence that Iraq is central to the war on terrorism and can't be abandoned without giving jihadists a crucial victory.

More intelligence to come
A separate intelligence assessment focused solely on Iraq may be coming soon. At least two House Democrats - Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Rep. Jane Harman of California - have questioned whether that report has been shelved until after the Nov. 7 elections.

"No, they don't have one on the shelf," White House press secretary Tony Snow said Thursday, adding that John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, just started it a month ago. "You don't pull an all-nighter," Snow said. "It's not like a college term paper that you slap together."

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., accused the administration of foot-dragging, and said revelations in the NIE underscore the urgency of getting the facts on Iraq.

"With Iraq on the brink of a full-scale civil war, preparation of this intelligence assessment of Iraq cannot be delayed any longer," Kennedy said. "With more than 140,000 Americans under fire every hour of every day in Iraq, it's wrong to slow-roll this assessment."

Bush spoke at a political fundraiser in Birmingham that is raising $2.5 million for the Alabama GOP and Gov. Bob Riley, who is being challenged by Democratic Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley.

Before the fundraiser, Bush stopped in nearby Hoover, Ala., to visit the Hoover Public Safety Center where local officials briefed him on the city's use of vehicles that run on alternative fuels.

"You know the price of gasoline has been dropping and that's good news for the American consumers. It's good news for the small business owners, good news for the farmers," Bush said at a pumping station that supplies fuel made of 85 percent ethanol produced from corn. "But it's very important for us to remember that we still have an issue when it comes to dependence on foreign oil. And one way to become less dependent on foreign oil is for us to develop new ways to power our automobiles right here in America."

Later in the day, Bush was making his second visit to Ohio this week to help Republican lawmakers in tough re-election battles. He was to attend a fundraiser in New Albany, Ohio, that will raise $650,000 for the Ohio GOP and Rep. Deborah Pryce. On Monday, Bush was in Cincinnati for a private fundraiser for Sen. Mike DeWine.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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