Republican US Senate candidate Mark Kirk said Wednesday the Bush administration "lied" to the public on intelligence leading up to the Iraq war.

"I think that we were lied to in the end, by the deputy director of national intelligence, absolutely," Kirk said in a nationally televised debate against his opponent, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.

His remarks were reported by CNN and Politico's Ben Smith, who notes that the CIA chief at the time was John McLaughlin.

The two candidates are locked in a tight battle for President Barack Obama's former Illinois senate seat, which is temporarily being held by Roland Burris. Recent polls show them neck and neck, with Giannoulias slightly behind.

Kirk's language was exceptional for a high-ticket candidate, especially a Republican, and is more commonly found in the progressive blogosphere. Though the central pretexts for the war turned out to be false, few national politicians claim the Iraq war was based on deliberate lies, as opposed to flawed intelligence.

But Giannoulias wasn't buying Kirk's change of heart. "He actually convinced other members of Congress that he knew to a moral certitude," Giannoulias responded, as it was noted that Kirk voted for the resolution to go to war.

Yet Kirk, a five-term congressman, is in good company. President George W. Bush's former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Hugh Shelton, wrote in his memoir that the Iraq war was "based on a series of lies" concocted by the administration.

In his recently published memoir, "Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior," Shelton called the Iraq war "unnecessary" and said that the Bush team went to war "based on a series of lies."

"There was a very strong push in those days for us to go into Iraq, and there was absolutely no intelligence, zero, that pointed toward the Iraqis," he told Christiane Amanpour on ABC's 'This Week' on Sunday. "It was all Al Qaida, Osama bin Laden. And yet there was an element there that was -- that was pushing to go into Iraq at the same time."

In the debate, Kirk and Giannoulias also jabbed over the bank bailouts, deficits and loans to mobsters and felons.