Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi insisted that uprooting extremists from Fallujah is the only way "to safeguard lives, elections and democracy in Iraq," rejecting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's warning against attacking the city, according to a letter obtained Monday by reporters.
Allawi's diplomatic rebuke was in response to Annan's letter late last week warning the leaders of the US, Britain and Iraq that an all-out assault on Fallujah could undermine national elections set for January and further alienate Iraqis.
Earlier Monday, US-led coalition and Iraqi forces launched a long-awaited offensive against Fallujah after Allawi gave the green light. The invasion is aimed at wresting control from insurgents and re-establishing government control of the Sunni Muslim city before elections.
Iraq's UN Ambassador Samir Sumaidaie asked to meet Annan on Monday afternoon and told reporters afterward that attacking Fallujah was "the least damaging, the least dangerous" option to restore law-and-order to the city, which is now under "a Taliban-like rule."
He said Annan "shares our abhorrence at the terrorists and their actions" and "I think the secretary-general accepts that this is an Iraqi matter, and a decision must be taken by the Iraqi government."
He wouldn't discuss Allawi's letter but said in his discussion with the secretary-general, "We have emphasized the agreements rather than disagreements."
According to Annan's spokesman, however, "they discussed their differing perspectives on Fallujah" in "a serious, yet friendly, discussion, with both agreeing on the importance of establishing a relationship based on mutual understanding."
In his three-page letter, Allawi told Annan he could not give violent extremist a veto over Iraq's democracy or let them "continue to terrorize the vast majority of Iraqis who want to live in peace and freedom."
The Iraqi prime minister said he shared Annan's view that an escalation in violence could disrupt Iraq's political transition.
"But I believe that this argues for taking firm steps now to tackle the violence we face today," he wrote. "Unchecked, this violence will escalate -- perhaps even into a sectarian struggle which threatens the elections altogether. We cannot afford to run that risk."
Allawi said it was "unacceptable" that civilians in parts of the country have been "hijacked by the terrorists and insurgents." He said the extremists had had enough time to join the political process.
"Worse still is that the terrorists and insurgents operating from places like Fallujah are exporting their violence to other parts of the country, terrorizing and killing innocent Iraqis and those seeking to protect them," he said. "I cannot allow these terrorists to continue to murder with impunity."
Allawi told Annan, "I was a little surprised by the lack of any mention in your letter of the atrocities which these groups have committed."
In his letter dated Oct. 31, Annan said Iraq has to attract more Iraqis to join the electoral process for it to succeed. He said he feared that major military offensives in places like Fallujah would cause civilian casualties, alienate Iraqis and jeopardize the election's credibility.
The influential Sunni clerical Association of Muslim Scholars has threatened to call for a boycott of elections if Fallujah is attacked. But Sumaidaie insisted there was no link between the action in Fallujah and participation in elections, which he said was "a political issue."