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Iraq: Bush, Allawi Acknowledge Problems, But Highlight Good News

Iyad Allawi and George W. Bush Washington, 24 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush and Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had nothing but praise for each other at a Washington news conference yesterday.

Both men need the support: Bush is facing a hotly contested reelection bid in six weeks, and Allawi is trying to run a government in the midst of a deadly insurgency. The pressure is on both leaders to show progress in Iraq.

Allawi, for his part, was clear in saying that elections in Iraq set for January would go on as scheduled in spite of continued violence. "In 15 out of 18 Iraqi provinces, the security situation is good for elections to be held tomorrow," he said. "Here Iraqis are getting on with their daily lives, hungry for the new political and economic freedoms they are enjoying. Although this is not what you see in your media, it is a fact."

The question of whether Iraq will or will not be able to hold elections in January has taken on increased importance. The UN -- which would assist in running the vote -- and many others around the world have said the election may have to be delayed because of the security situation. The Bush administration, the Iraqi interim government, and many within Iraq -- including influential Shi'a cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani -- insist that the vote must proceed on schedule.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared to hint yesterday that voting might not be possible in some places targeted by militants. Speaking to an important Congressional committee yesterday, he said: "Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country. But in some places you couldn't because the violence was too great. Well, so be it. Nothing's perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet."

Some 18 months after the U.S. led a coalition to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, U.S. and Iraqi government forces are still fighting an anticoalition insurgency. The insurgents have focused their attacks on U.S. troops, Iraqi police officers, and, increasingly, civilians working with the U.S.-led coalition. This week they beheaded two Americans after capturing them and holding them hostage.

Bush said the grisly, high-profile killings were a sign of weakness among the insurgents. "What they do is behead Americans so they can get on the TV screens," he said. "And they're trying to shake our will and they're trying to shake the Iraqis' will. That's what they're trying to do. And, like all Americans, I'm disgusted by that kind of behavior. But I'm not going to yield, we're not going to abandon the Iraqi people. It's in our interests that we win this battle in the war on terror."

Bush is facing a difficult reelection bid in November. His challenger, Democratic Senator John Kerry, accuses the president of not being honest on Iraq. "America needs leadership that tells the truth," Kerry said yesterday while campaigning in Ohio.

Bush, at the news conference with Allawi, was asked about a recent grim U.S. intelligence estimate for Iraq. The report predicted the "best" outcome in Iraq, given the circumstances, would be a troubled, divided democracy. At worst, the report predicted civil war.

Bush had previously dismissed the estimate as a "guess," but he said yesterday he took it seriously -- but was relying more on Allawi's personal assessment. "What's important for the American people to hear is reality, and the reality is right here in the form of the prime minister, and he is explaining what is happening on the ground. That's the best report," Bush said.
"What we need really is to train more Iraqis because this is ultimately for Iraqis, for Iraqi security forces to take responsibility for their own security and to defend the rest of the civilized world."

Bush was also asked about a comment made a day earlier by the commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East, General John Abizaid. Abizaid told the U.S. Congress on 22 September that more U.S. troops might be needed in Iraq. Bush said Abizaid has not asked for more troops, but if he ever does, the request will get serious consideration.

For his part, Allawi said the issue is not more U.S. troops, but more Iraqis trained to protect their own country. "To have more troops, we don't need," he said. "What we need really is to train more Iraqis because this is ultimately for Iraqis, for Iraqi security forces to take responsibility for their own security and to defend the rest of the civilized world."

The Bush administration has come under strong criticism for not dispatching more U.S. soldiers to Iraq to provide better security for reconstruction and the run-up to elections.

For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".

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