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The Conflict in Iraq

Iraq Leader Will Face Doubts on Visit to U.S.

September 20, 2004|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi will visit the United States this week in an effort to convince Americans that his country is on the path to stability, even as GOP leaders in Congress expressed growing concern Sunday about the upsurge of violence in Iraq and the ability of the government to deal with it.

"We're in deep trouble in Iraq," Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "We're going to have to look at some recalibration of policy."

In his first visit to the United States as Iraq's leader, Allawi will seek to show Washington that he is a reliable and steadfast partner. He then will try to convince world leaders at the United Nations that he is independent of the Americans, who were largely responsible for his having the job.

When he appears before a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday, Allawi will have a chance to give a political boost to President Bush by lending support to Bush's upbeat view of the situation in Iraq. Yet some Republican leaders in Congress made clear Sunday that they intended to question him closely on an optimistic assessment they did not fully share.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the situation "has been deteriorating, to say the least," and predicted that it would worsen between now and Iraq's elections, planned for January. Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," he faulted the administration for not sending more troops and for making other missteps in securing the country after dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled in April 2003.

"We made serious mistakes right after the initial successes," McCain said.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, bemoaned that only $1 billion of the $18 billion appropriated by Congress for Iraq's reconstruction had been spent in the 10 months since it was approved. "This is the incompetence of the administration," he said.

The Bush administration said last week that it would ask congressional permission to shift $3.4 billion in reconstruction funds, much of it from projects to repair the country's infrastructure, to shorter-term programs largely aimed at bolstering security.

Stopping in London on Sunday on the way to the United States, Allawi insisted, in the face of growing skepticism, that the violence in Iraq would not alter plans for nationwide elections in January.

"We're definitely going to stick to the timetable of elections in January," Allawi said as he stood beside British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a Downing Street news conference. "We are adamant that democracy is going to prevail. It's going to win in Iraq.... I call on the United Nations to help us."

Allawi is to meet with Bush on Tuesday in New York during the annual gathering of the U.N. General Assembly. Allawi is scheduled to be in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday, then return to New York on Friday for a speech to the General Assembly.

The gruff, 59-year-old physician has been struggling at home to bolster his public support -- which, after a strong showing when he took office in June, has faded in the face of continuing violence and civil turmoil. But his relationships with U.S. officials and other world leaders are also crucial, and Allawi would like to strengthen both during this trip.

From world leaders in New York, he would like greater recognition of his government's legitimacy and concrete political and financial assistance. Support from many European and Arab nations continues to be tepid, and some members of the U.S.-led coalition -- including Costa Rica and Hungary -- have signaled that they are dropping out of the group.

The Iraqi government needs to have other nations quickly offer troops to protect the U.N. workers who must enter the country soon to begin election preparations. U.N. officials say they will not send more workers to augment the 35 there until adequate security arrangements are made.

Allawi's government also needs cooperation from the major creditor nations that are about to begin discussions about erasing the $120-billion debt incurred by Hussein's regime.

Allawi will try to reassure Congress that it is getting a good return on the $4 billion-plus it is spending each month for military operations in his country. In January, the administration is expected to ask Congress for tens of billions of additional dollars for military and intelligence operations there. Congressional and White House officials are likely to press Allawi on several other issues.

One is ensuring safety for aspiring police officers, dozens of whom have been killed in recent weeks as they lined up seeking jobs. Another is what can be done to stem the exodus of reconstruction contractors from Iraq. U.S. diplomats say Western firms are again talking about pulling out because of renewed kidnappings and suicide bombings that target civilians.

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