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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Seeking Aid, Leader Sees a 'War for Civilized World'

September 22, 2004|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi began a weeklong visit to the United States on Tuesday, urging Americans to continue backing his fragile government while portraying events in his war-racked homeland with striking optimism.

At a time when surging violence in Iraq has alarmed many Americans, Allawi declared during an appearance with President Bush at the United Nations that "we are defeating the terrorists." The prime minister insisted that U.S. and Iraqi forces had pushed back insurgents everywhere but in isolated pockets of the country.

The 59-year-old former exile, campaigning to strengthen U.S. commitment to his nation, declared that the war in Iraq "is really not only an Iraqi war; it's a war for the civilized world."

Insurgents and foreign terrorists want to undermine Iraq and then the Middle East, he said, adding: "And once they do this, they will hit hard at the civilized world and in Washington and New York and London and Paris and Ankara [Turkey], elsewhere, everywhere, in the civilized world."

With the war dominating the U.S. presidential race, Allawi plans to speak before a joint session of Congress and the U.N. General Assembly this week. He is filling his spare time with television appearances and meetings with U.S. and foreign leaders as he strives to reassure an American public shaken by developments in Iraq.

Allawi faulted the news media for the public's impression of deepening troubles in the war. The media are "talking only about the negative aspects," he said.

For instance, although Pentagon officials have described some dangerous parts of Iraq as "no-go" zones for U.S. forces, Allawi contended that there are no such places. He said in an interview with CNN that the cities of Samarra, Najaf, Basra and large parts of Mosul are "back to normal."

"We are left only with Fallouja, really, which is a small enclave," Allawi said, adding that only "parts" of the city are dangerous. "And we hope that will be resolved soon."

Allawi, who was chosen in June by U.S. and U.N. officials and Iraqi politicians to lead the interim government, has much riding on the trip. In meetings with world leaders at the United Nations, he hopes to win more financial and political support and persuade the world body to expand a hazardous mission to prepare for Iraqi elections scheduled for January. In a two-day visit to Washington that begins today, he hopes to shore up support from the country that underwrites his government and protects him.

But the visit by Allawi, who will address Congress on Thursday, comes at a time when even some Republican lawmakers have turned more pessimistic. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday: "We're in deep trouble in Iraq."

Allawi's upbeat tone seemed to differ even from that of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who on Tuesday acknowledged stiff challenges ahead. "It is a difficult struggle that we are in right now," he said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "There's no question about it. Insurgencies are tough. But to say that we can't deal with it, this sort of attitude that we're on the verge of defeat, is absolutely wrong."

The prime minister's take on the situation was questioned by U.S. critics of the Bush administration's war policy.

"Allawi says all the great things that are happening," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, speaking on ABC. "But then he says, 'But by the way, I need more foreign troops.' He said, 'I need more U.N. personnel.' He said, 'I need a major meeting of the regional powers.' "

In his appearance with Allawi, Bush provided the rationale for the visit. "The prime minister will be able to explain clearly to the American people," Bush said, "that not only is progress being made, that we will succeed."

Allawi insisted that the insurgents "are, frankly, getting more desperate. We are winning." He said "international terrorists" are flooding into Iraq from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, Europe and other places. He said that in a recent engagement, of 63 fighters taken prisoner, 54 were foreigners.

"This is a demonstration that what is happening in Iraq is a global conflict," Allawi said. "That's why we need the United Nations, we need the multinational force. We need the help of the international community."

Despite Allawi's statements about his government's progress, large swaths of Iraq remain under limited U.S. control at best. In Samarra, north of Baghdad, U.S. forces recently resumed semi-regular patrols under the terms of a deal with tribal and religious leaders.

However, the town remains barely under control. Samarra has had more than a dozen police chiefs since the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein's government last year. The newest police commander, appointed less than two weeks ago and sworn in with the help of a U.S. military escort, resigned after receiving death threats, military officials have said.

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