Sat, Sep 25, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Allawi pooh-poohs Iraq carnage

SEEKING CREDIBILITY Iraq's prime minister said `There are no problems. It's safe. It's good' as he tried to build US trust in his regime's leadership


It may have seemed odd that interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi spent a few of his precious first minutes at the White House giving reporters a geography lesson.

But just as he came to Washington to erase voters' doubts about US President George W. Bush's dogged determination to keep fighting in Iraq, Allawi also was seeking credibility for his own leadership, with an eye toward elections in his country come January.

That meant convincing the American power structure that he's got everything under control.

And that is why Allawi, in making the rounds in the US capital on Thursday, rattled off the names of Iraqi towns and argued that recent, blood-soaked days aside, most of his nation is "completely safe."

"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," Allawi said during a Rose Garden news conference with Bush. "It's safe. It's good."

Although he accused Western media of inaccurately portraying Iraq, he urged reporters to spread his upbeat message.

"One really needs to explain it to you, and you need to explain it to the people," Allawi said.

"He has this real chicken-and-egg problem," said Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "He can't really gain political support unless he can show that he's making progress combatting the problem of violence and petty crime, and he doesn't have the political support to make progress in those areas."

Allawi took his insistences past geography, telling Bush that he didn't think more foreign troops were needed on the ground in Iraq and suggesting that Iraqis could be trained to secure the election.

According to Allawi's teachings, only three provinces in Iraq are pocked by violence. The city of Fallujah, scene of much death, injury and woe, sits in a "vast, very big" province called al-Anbar, where there are "many other important towns, such as Ana, such as Rawa, such as Ramadi" unmarked by such problems, he said.

And even in Fallujah, violence is happening only in "a small pocket," fanned by unhappy Baathists and "terrorists" from outside Iraq, he insisted. Still, elections will go on.

"I am not trying to undermine that there are dangers," Allawi continued. Iraq is in the thick of "a terrorist onslaught," and he personally gets a threat every day -- "In the last four weeks, they found four conspiracies to kill me," Allawi said.

US lawmakers warmly gave Allawi the benefit of the doubt, interrupting his speech before a joint meeting of Congress with applause and standing ovations. Swept up in the moment, Allawi applauded too, and when he was done he smiled, shook a lot of hands and chatted with a few key senators.

But away from the pomp and circumstance, some members of Congress harbored reservations about Allawi's sunny assessment.

"He wants people to be willing to stay the course and I think it was important for him to come and make his case," said Democratic Senator Ben Nelson. "I hope that his optimism will carry through, and that he does in fact speak for the Iraqi people."

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