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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Allawi Says He Regularly Meets With Insurgents to Halt Violence

Premier distinguishes between fighters who may join politics and others who favor 'anarchy,' promising to crush the latter.

August 30, 2004|Patrick J. McDonnell and T. Christian Miller | Times Staff Writers

BAGHDAD — Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Sunday he was meeting regularly with representatives of the "so-called resistance," trying to persuade insurgents to put down their weapons and embrace the nation's nascent political process.

But Allawi also said many of the guerrillas -- especially foreign fighters who had come to Iraq to confront U.S.-led forces -- were fanatics who would carry on their struggle in Europe and the United States if not vanquished here.

"We are fighting on behalf of all civilization," Allawi declared in an interview with half a dozen Western news organizations during which he condemned militants' recent killing of an Italian journalist and abduction of two French reporters in Iraq. "Once they are through here, they will come and bomb Rome out, and Paris, and Brussels, and they'll keep chopping the heads off people."

The prime minister said the attacks on European journalists showed how militants in Iraq were targeting people from any nation and profession.

"They wouldn't even spare countries that chose to sit on the fence," said Allawi, referring to France, which did not join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. "We say the French, and each responsible

Some critics, in France and elsewhere, have suggested that the U.S.-led military presence in Iraq was provoking more violence. But Allawi rejected this argument, saying that a pullout of foreign troops would probably lead to "catastrophe" and a possible breakup of his country.

"To hide away from confrontation is not the answer," said Allawi, a neurosurgeon who went into exile in London and worked with the CIA to oust President Saddam Hussein before last year's war toppled the dictator.

The prime minister praised as "very fair" last week's agreement that ended three weeks of fighting in the holy city of Najaf between U.S. and government forces and militiamen loyal to Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr. Under the accord, Sadr's militiamen were allowed to leave the Imam Ali shrine, but armed fighters were banned from Najaf and neighboring Kufa. The government also agreed to help underwrite reconstruction of Najaf's Old City, which suffered heavy damage in the violence.

Allawi said the amnesty did not apply to charges filed against Sadr in connection with the killing of a rival cleric last year. The prime minister added that Sadr must disband his militia, but he did not suggest that Iraqi authorities would try to arrest the cleric, a move that could trigger more fighting.

Meanwhile, authorities said U.S. military officers met Sunday with Shiite tribal leaders and Sadr representatives in Sadr City, a poor, densely populated Baghdad neighborhood where 10 people died and more than 20 others were injured in fighting in recent days. U.S. tanks were gathering at the edge of the district; streets seemed mostly deserted.

Elsewhere, violence flared near the northern city of Mosul, and another section of oil pipeline was blown up in southern Iraq in the latest act of sabotage to strike the nation's fragile infrastructure.

The prime minister's classification of the insurgents into two broad groups -- those who might accept the new government, and others who seek "anarchy" -- underlines his government's policy: providing amnesty and a place at the electoral table for those willing to put down their arms, while promising to crush opponents who continue fighting.

"I tell them, 'We need to understand your objectives -- what do you want to achieve?' " said Allawi, whose 2-month-old caretaker regime is charged with guiding the nation through elections scheduled for January. " 'If you want to rule this country, then there is no problem: The elections are coming up, and if the people want you they will elect you, and you can become presidents, prime ministers, whatever.... ' "

The prime minister said he had been host to delegations from Fallouja, Ramadi and Samarra -- largely Sunni Muslim towns that are insurgent strongholds -- and urged rebels to take political action and give up violence. He appeared to be referring mostly to those fighters who took up arms because they opposed the postwar U.S. occupation or were left economically strapped after the invasion. Hussein's regime had favored the Sunni minority, and many lost their livelihoods when his government fell.

But Allawi, like U.S. military commanders, took note of the broad section of combatants opposing his government and insisted that hard-core fighters would have to be defeated. "This is the time for people to stand up and face the threats -- the global threat -- of terrorism and anarchy ... as Europe stood against Hitler, and against tyranny," Allawi said during the interview at government offices deep inside the U.S.-guarded Green Zone in downtown Baghdad. "This is even much worse now.... These evil forces want to destroy the civilization of humankind."

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