U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq that new military campaigns in Fallujah and other insurgent strongholds could jeopardize coming elections, according to a letter obtained Friday.
Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi responded sharply, calling Annan’s note “confused” and saying, “If he can stop the insurgents from inflicting damage and killing the Iraqis, then he’s welcome. We will do whatever he wants.”
“It was a confused message that I got from him. It’s not clear to me, and we are now seeking clarification,” Allawi said in an interview on British Broadcasting Corp. television. “We don’t know exactly what his intentions are. We don’t know whom he means. It’s a very unclear message.”
Buildup to offensive
In the letter, dated Oct. 31, Annan told U.S., British and Iraqi leaders that the United Nations wanted to help prepare for the elections, which are scheduled for the end of January, but feared a rise in violence could disrupt the process.
“I have in mind not only the risk of increased insurgent violence, but also reports of major military offensives being planned by the multinational force in key localities such as Fallujah,” Annan wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
U.S. jets have launched multiple airstrikes against insurgent positions in Fallujah, and U.S. soldiers blocked roads leading to the city in preparation for a planned assault to put Fallujah and other insurgent bastions north and west of Baghdad under control of Iraq’s interim government.
After meeting with European leaders at a European Union summit in Brussels, Allawi said the window for a peaceful settlement of the standoff over Fallujah was closing fast. An offensive in Fallujah would involve a combination of U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Annan warned that major military assaults, “in which the main burden seems bound to be borne by American forces,” could discourage Iraqis from participating in the vote.
Annan offered U.N. help and urged the coalition to give more time for dialogue to succeed.
“I, and all my colleagues at the United Nations Secretariat, want to help,” Annan wrote. “But we need a conducive environment if elections are to produce a positive effect.”
Allawi’s latest comments came a week after Annan’s letter was sent, indicating that Iraqi and U.S. leaders were not seriously considering the offer.