Optimistic Allawi paints rosy picture of Iraq

Posted in Iraq | 24-Sep-04 | Author: Julian Borger and Richard Nort| Source: Guardian

Visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi gave a rare address by a foreign leader to Congress, vowing that elections would go ahead as planned in January, even as he and President George W. Bush warned of worsening violence.
Congress applauds as visiting prime minister thanks US for liberating his country

Iraq's caretaker prime minister, Ayad Allawi, painted a resolutely upbeat picture of his country yesterday, insisting that the counter-insurgency was succeeding and elections would take place on schedule.

Mr Allawi's speech, to a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives, echoed President Bush's campaign rhetoric on Iraq and included a point-by-point rebuttal of criticisms by the Democratic challenger, John Kerry.

Mr Allawi found a receptive audience in Congress, which repeatedly interrupted the former exile with standing ovations, particularly when he formally expressed his country's gratitude for the invasion.

"It's a tough struggle, with setbacks, but we are succeeding," he said. "Thank you America. We Iraqis are grateful to you, America, for your leadership and your sacrifice for our liberation and our opportunity to start anew."

His optimistic assessment of Iraq's future was clouded by comments from the commander of US troops there, General John Abizaid, who told Congress more soldiers would be needed if elections were to take place on schedule in January. He said he hoped Iraqi and other allied troops could fill the gap but could not rule out the need for American reinforcements.

Mr Allawi rejected the general's comments, declaring: "Troops we don't need - what we need to do is to train more Iraqis."

Mr Allawi said his government now commanded 100,000 trained and armed soldiers, militiamen and police and would have 125,000 by the beginning of next year. He claimed that 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces were peaceful enough to hold elections im mediately. In the remaining three, he said, there were only pockets of trouble.

News of Gen Abizaid's comments seemed to take President Bush by surprise yesterday when he appeared at a joint Rose Garden press conference with the Iraqi prime minister. He said the general had not mentioned a request for more soldiers at a White House meeting that morning.

But the president added: "If our commanders on the ground feel it's in the interests of Iraq's citizens to have more troops on the ground, we'll talk about it."

Mr Bush once more shrugged off a gloomy US intelligence estimate in July on Iraq's future. The president said the National Intelligence Estimate merely reflected possibilities, "but what's important is for Americans to hear reality".

That reality, he said, was reflected in the views of Mr Allawi, whom he presented as a representative of the Iraqi people. However, the Shia former exile, who was appointed in May, formerly ran the Iraqi National Accord, which was backed by the CIA and seen by most Iraqis as a western stooge organisation, according to a pre-war British assessment.

The description appears in a secret document prepared by senior officials in the Cabinet Office in March 2002, a year before the invasion of Iraq.

It reveals the low opinion British officials had of the two main exile groups, one led by Mr Allawi, the other by Ahmad Chalabi. Both organisations had close links with British and American intelligence.

"Unaided, the Iraqi opposition is incapable of overthrowing the regime", says the document, marked "secret, UK eyes only".

During his visit to Washington, Mr Allawi drove home three points that echoed Mr Bush's defence of the war.

He insisted: "We are better off, you are better off, and the world is better off without Saddam Hussein." Second, he depicted the counter-insurgency in Iraq as part of America's "global war on terror".

And third, he took an apparent swipe at Mr Kerry. Mr Allawi said: "When political leaders sound the siren of defeatism in the face of terrorism, it can only encourage more violence." Only a few days ago, Mr Bush accused his opponent of defeatism.

Responding within minutes at a campaign stop in Ohio, Senator Kerry said: "The president and the prime minister 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."