- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2004

BAGHDAD — The government will step up its military drive to clear out rebel strongholds in Fallujah, Ramadi and Sadr City ahead of January elections, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi pledged in an address to the interim national assembly yesterday.

“I hope that from now on, we are going to achieve efficient strikes,” said Mr. Allawi, speaking on a day in which more deadly car bombs shook Iraqi cities. “We are going to clear those areas. The operations are going to be increasing in strength.”

Members of the 100-member assembly, sometimes derided as a tame echo chamber for the prime minister, used an hour-long question period to harangue Mr. Allawi with tough questions on his government’s security, economic and ethnic policies.

“The road leading from Baghdad to the south of the country is known as the ‘highway of death,’” declared Tawfiq al-Yassery, chairman of the assembly’s national security committee. “What are you going to do about it?”

Mr. Allawi stood calmly as he listened to the questions and gave vague, politically safe answers on topics that illustrated Iraq’s daunting troubles.

U.S.-led multinational forces, aided by Iraqi troops, stormed Samarra last weekend to clear that riverside shrine city of militants who controlled it. U.S. and Iraqi officials have described the operation as a dry run for similar efforts in other rebel-held areas.

Terrorists continued their campaign yesterday, with two car bomb explosions in Ramadi killing four Iraqis and another car bomb in Mosul wounding four Americans. Several headless bodies were also reportedly found in and around Mosul.

More than 3,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops, meanwhile, staged an operation against a suspected insurgent training camp in Baghdad’s southern suburbs. U.S. officials said they had captured more than 160 rebels.

The U.S. military earlier reported one soldier was killed north of Baghdad Monday night, bringing the tally of Americans killed in Iraq to at least 1,058.

U.S. warplanes also fired on the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, with at least one Iraqi killed during fighting between U.S. soldiers and loyalists of Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr, the rebel cleric who leads the Mahdi’s Army militia.

Mr. Allawi, installed as prime minister by former U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, appeared before the assembly to report on a recent international tour that included visits to Washington and London.

He said he had asked American, British, Russian, Ukranian, Egyptian, Saudi and Jordanian leaders for more weapons, including tanks, gunboats, helicopters and drone planes to bolster the country’s military capabilities.

“Some of them, we have received. Some of them, we will receive later,” he said.

Mr. Allawi held out an olive branch to Sheik al-Sadr and his fighters, telling members of the assembly that he had recently negotiated a deal in Sadr City “for them to lay down their weapons and cooperate with us.”

“Our hope is not to always use the military solution,” he said in response to a question from one of the national assembly members.

Indeed, senior officials met in Baghdad yesterday with a delegation from Fallujah to seek a deal that would allow government forces to take control of the city without bloodshed.

“Expect something good in coming days,” Iraq’s president, Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, was quoted as saying.

But Mr. Allawi dismissed the political aims of the resistance, which include pushing all foreign troops out of Iraq. He said only elections and not violence could decide the fate of the country.

“Despite all their goals and mottos, they are betting on our failure,” he said in his speech, broadcast on Iraqi television. “They want to destroy Iraq.”

He added, “We’re all looking forward to the day when the foreign forces will leave Iraq. But this will not happen before we achieve security and stability in our country.”

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