Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi sees a bright future for Iraqi democracy, brushing aside skeptics who say elections set for January may be truncated or canceled altogether because of violence.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he believes the elections should go ahead but he suggested the balloting may be impossible in areas where the potential for violence is too great.
“Nothing’s perfect in life,” Rumsfeld told a Senate committee on Thursday. “You have an election that’s not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet.”
During an appearance Thursday night after an address to Congress and talks with President Bush and other officials, Allawi made no reference to Rumsfeld’s remarks. But he expressed annoyance with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for suggesting last week that there could not be “credible elections” if violence doesn’t abate by January.
He said he planned to ask Annan for a clarification of his remarks during a meeting in New York on Friday after winding up his Washington visit with morning meetings at the Pentagon.
Allawi said he asked U.N. officials in Iraq whether they were privy to inside information about a postponement. Their answer was no, the prime minister said.
Kerry campaign seizes on remarks
Phil Singer, a spokesman for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, said Rumsfeld’s comments were at odds with Bush’s own upbeat remarks earlier in the day. “For a White House that likes to condemn mixed signals, it certainly is sending out a few of its own,” Singer said.
Kerry contends Bush has been dishonest about the war’s rationale and cost and lacks an effective strategy to end the crisis. While Kerry urges a start of troop withdrawals within six months and complete pullout in four years, Bush and Allawi, appearing together at a White House Rose Garden news conference, said the United States must stand and fight.
Without mentioning Kerry by name, Bush and Allawi suggested his criticism was undercutting Iraq and the United States. “You can embolden an enemy by sending mixed messages,” Bush said.
Allawi, speaking later to a gathering sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, acknowledged that the January elections “may not be 100 percent safe” but insisted that the country is making progress.
“Security is going to get better,” he said. “We have plans in place. We hope it will work.”
As for the violence increasingly buffeting his country and his leadership, Allawi added, “We are inflicting a lot of losses, very heavy losses.” As a direct result, the insurgents are “becoming more desperate” and resorting to suicide bombings, he said. Fourteen or 15 of the country’s 18 provinces are safe, he said, while the remainder are safe for the most part and face only “pockets” of resistance.
He ticked off a long list of cities that he said have been pacified, repeating an exercise he performed earlier in the day when, standing next to Bush in the White House Rose Garden, he suggested to reporters that they weren’t doing their homework.
“Few care to look at Iraq properly, and go from Basra to Nasiriyah, to Kut, to Diala, to Najaf, to Karbala, to Diwina, to Samawa, to Kirkuk, to Sulaymaniyah, to Dahuk, to Irbil. There are no problems,” he said.
Iraq’s interim constitution says elections for a national assembly must be held by Jan. 31.
Spike in violence
Allawi’s rosy prediction for Iraq’s future contrasted sharply with the recent spike in violence in Iraq that has resulted in many Iraqi deaths and pushed the death toll of U.S. servicemen above the 1,000 mark.
And September is shaping up as one of the deadliest months for U.S. troops since the Iraq conflict started 18 months ago.
The State Department recently decided to redirect significant funds to build up Iraqi security forces, sacrificing a number of reconstruction projects.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said that decision amounted to an admission that “we are in deep trouble” in Iraq.
But at the White House, Bush told reporters that Iraq is on the right path.
“On television sets around the world we see acts of violence 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,” the president said.
Kerry: ‘We need to change the course’
Kerry countered that contrary to assertions by Bush and Allawi, things are not improving in Iraq “and we need to change the course to protect our troops and to win.”
Speaking in Columbus, Ohio, Kerry said, “The prime minister and the president are here, obviously, to put their best face on the policy. But the fact is that the CIA estimates, the reporting, the ground operations and the troops all tell a different story.”
Allawi rejected any suggestion that he was here to assist Bush in his re-election effort.
“I didn’t come here to get involved in internal politics,” Allawi said, adding that he wanted to come here to express his “heartfelt appreciation for what the United States has done in Iraq.”