updated 5/1/2004 2:15:48 PM ET 2004-05-01T18:15:48

An Iraq war veteran expressed disappointment with President Bush on Saturday, saying the country's leaders refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of continuing violence in Iraq.

“I don’t expect our leaders to be free of mistakes. I expect our leaders to own up to them,” said Army National Guard 1st Lt. Paul Rieckhoff, who was a platoon leader in Iraq.

Rieckhoff’s comments, distributed by Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign, were the Democratic response to the president’s weekly radio address. Usually, a public official gives the response.

“Our troops are still waiting for more body armor. They are still waiting for better equipment. They are still waiting for a policy that brings in the rest of the world and relieves their burden,” said Rieckhoff.

Rieckhoff called his comrades in Iraq “men and women of extraordinary courage and incredible capability. But it’s time we had leadership in Washington to match that courage and match that capability.”

Bush: U.S. will stay the course
Rieckhoff’s address was preceded by Bush’s weekly radio address. The president said the United States will successfully pursue its work in Iraq in the face of a violent insurgency that seeks to undermine a peaceful transfer of power to Iraqis on June 30.

“Despite many challenges, life for the Iraqi people is a world away from the cruelty and corruption of Saddam’s regime,” and “we will finish our work,” Bush said.

Bush’s comments come exactly a year after his declaration that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, a point he noted.

The Iraqi resistance has become a major issue in the presidential campaign, with public doubts growing about Bush’s handling of the war, according to the latest polling data. Americans are split evenly on whether taking military action in Iraq was the right thing to do, a CBS News-New York Times poll found this week.

Two more deaths on the final day of April raised the U.S. death toll to at least 136, making it the deadliest month for American forces since Bush launched the war in March 2003.

Militias, remnants of the regime and foreign terrorists “have found little support among the Iraqi people,” the president said.

Bush is pursuing twin goals on Iraq’s future, trying to ensure an atmosphere of security as Iraqis move toward self-government and returning sovereignty to the people of Iraq on June 30.

The president said the bigger picture in Iraq is somewhat brighter.

Electricity is now more widely available than before the war, he said, and Iraq has a stable currency with thriving banks, renovated schools and clinics and rebuilt power plants, hospitals, water and sanitation facilities and bridges.

“The stakes for our country and the world are high,” the president said. “The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the globe, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the Middle East.”

Earlier remarks were positive
In advance of Rieckhoff’s remarks, Republicans circulated televised comments he made last year in Iraq in which he gave a brighter picture of U.S. prospects.

“I think we’ve made incredible strides,” Rieckhoff said in a CBS “60 Minutes II” segment broadcast last October.

In a brief interview Saturday with The Associated Press, Rieckhoff said he had not been free to speak out in the TV interview because he had been on active duty.

Rieckhoff said he is not working for the Kerry campaign or for the Democratic Party. He contacted Kerry staffers who deal with veterans issues when he returned from Iraq three months ago, and they “provided me with the forum. I wrote every word.”

Rieckhoff is an Amherst College graduate who spent two years on Wall Street as an investment banking analyst before joining the National Guard. He said he plans now to return to university.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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