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Friday, September 24, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Iraqi leader and Bush vow democracy
By Seattle Times news services
Stepping into the Rose Garden with Bush after addressing a joint meeting of Congress, Allawi acknowledged that "we are facing [an] international terrorist onslaught on Iraq." But he pledged that Iraqi elections would be held as planned in January, saying the "doubters underestimate our country, and they risk fueling the hopes of terrorism."
Bush's Democratic challenger, John Kerry, yesterday accused Allawi and Bush of misleading the country on progress in the Iraq war. Bush charged that Kerry was emboldening the enemy with "mixed messages."
"My answer to the American people and the Iraqi people and to the enemy is that we will complete our mission," Bush said. "We will do our duty."
Allawi, a former neurologist who survived a 1978 ax attack by agents of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, nodded along as Bush stressed his determination to complete Iraq's transition from dictatorship to democracy.
While Bush and Allawi who had worked closely with the CIA when Saddam ruled Iraq offered optimistic assessments of what they saw as progress there, Kerry, campaigning in Ohio, spoke of a bad situation getting worse, and of U.S. and Iraqi troops retreating from "whole areas of Iraq."
"When you're at war, it is important to tell the truth to the American people," the Massachusetts senator said. Referring to his Navy service in Vietnam, he said: "I fought in a war when we weren't told the truth. And I know the consequences, and so does America."
He said Bush and Allawi were putting their best face on the policy, "but the fact is that the CIA estimates, the reporting, the ground operation and the troops all tell a different story."
Kerry also took issue with Allawi's statement that elections could be held by January. "The United States and the Iraqis have retreated from whole areas of Iraq," Kerry said. "There are no-go zones in Iraq today. You can't hold an election in a no-go zone."
Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking near Kansas City, Mo., shot back at Kerry for criticizing Allawi. "I must say I was appalled at the complete lack of respect Senator Kerry showed for this man of courage when he rushed out to hold a press conference and attack the prime minister, the man America must stand beside to defeat the terrorists," Cheney told 3,000 supporters.
He said of Allawi: "Saddam Hussein sent assassins after him. They tried to hack him to death in his bed."
Cheney called Kerry's criticism of the Iraq campaign an effort to "tear down all the good that has been accomplished" and accused him of being "destructive" to the effort in Iraq and the war on terrorism.
Allawi's visits to the White House and Capitol Hill followed consultations at the United Nations in New York all designed to showcase the new Iraqi leader and the president less than six weeks before the Nov. 2 election.
Their message was in lock step: Despite the violence in Iraq, democracy is on track.
"Elections will occur in Iraq, on time in January," Allawi told Congress, "because Iraqis want elections on time."
Bush, answering reporters' questions with Allawi, took a similar track.
"I'm not the expert on how the Iraqi people think because I live in America, which is nice, safe and secure," Bush said, turning to the prime minister. "But I talk to this man.
"He understands what is going on. After all, he lives there."
Using similar language, Bush and Allawi blamed the media for focusing too much on the violence in Iraq and too little on the progress made since Saddam's ouster.
"On television sets around the world, we see acts of violence," Bush said. "Yet, in most of Iraq, children are about to go back to school, parents are going back to work and new businesses are being opened."
Bush said he was "sickened by the atrocities" of the insurgents and extremists who have infiltrated the Iraq, citing specifically the recent beheadings and suicide bombings. Still, he declared "freedom is winning."
Meeting with reporters in Columbus, Ohio, between Allawi's address to Congress and his visit to the White House, Kerry renewed his blistering attack on the president for his handling of Iraq.
He charged that the administration was in disarray, with one official contradicting another. And he chastised the president for dismissing a new, bleak intelligence assessment of the situation in Iraq as just a guess.
"Just guessing, America? The CIA?" Kerry said. "They're not just guessing they're giving the president of the United States their best judgment. It's called an analysis. And the president ought to read it, and he ought to study it, and he ought to respond to it."
Responding, Bush allowed that he had used "an unfortunate word, 'guess.' "
"I should have used 'estimate,' " he said, referring to the analysis, known as a National Intelligence Estimate.
The report, he said, defending his earlier dismissal of it, talked about "possibilities about what can happen in Iraq, not probabilities."
"The reality is right here in the form of the prime minister," Bush said, "and he is explaining what is happening on the ground."
Not only the future of Iraq but also the "safety" of the United States is tied to rooting out the insurgents in Iraq, Bush said.
"If we stop fighting the terrorists in Iraq, they would be free to plot and plan attacks elsewhere in America and other free nations," he said. "To retreat now would betray our mission, our word and our friends."
Wednesday on Capitol Hill, Army Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, had suggested at a briefing for members of Congress that more troops, though not necessarily U.S. troops, might be needed to secure the Iraqi elections planned for January. But Bush said the general had not brought up that issue during a meeting yesterday, though he would consider any such request.
"When our commanders say they need support," Bush said, "they get support because we're going to succeed in this mission."
Allawi, however, said he saw no need for more U.S. forces but rather more training for Iraqi troops.
He also cautioned that the scheduled elections "may not be perfect" and will undoubtedly provoke more violence.
"But they will take place," he said, "and they will be free and fair."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Iraq could opt to conduct partial elections, with most of the country going to the polls to elect representatives for a new national assembly in January but other areas facing a delayed vote if stability in major cities isn't established by January.
Some congressional staffers and Iraq experts challenged Allawi's claims that 14 or 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces are "completely safe" and that the others only have "pockets of terrorists." In fact, U.S. troops have come under varying degrees of attack in at least six provinces in recent weeks, including Baghdad, where up to a fourth of the Iraqi electorate resides, and Anbar, Diyala, Salahuddin, Kirkuk and Nineveh.
Although Bush and Allawi cited progress in training Iraqi security forces, State Department figures indicate that fewer than half of the 85,000 Iraqi police and fewer than 40 percent of the 12,700-member Iraqi army have been trained.
And even with the untrained recruits, the security force is still far short of the goal of 213,000 police officers and 23,600 soldiers.
Earlier, in the House chambers, the prime minister had thanked Congress for its support in ousting Saddam and in rebuilding the country.
"Your decision to go to war in Iraq was not an easy one, but it was the right one," Allawi said, echoing a line that Bush uses on the campaign trail.
"My friends," Allawi said, "today we are better off, you are better off, and the world is better off without Saddam Hussein."
Allawi received several ovations during his speech, but reaction afterward was mixed, almost completely along partisan lines, reflecting the contentious issue that Iraq has become in this election season.
Compiled from The Dallas Morning News, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Knight Ridder Newspapers reports.
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