- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

Offering a simple, “Thank you America,” Iraqi interim prime minister Ayad Allawi declared today that his country is moving successfully past the war that ousted Saddam Hussein and vowed that elections will take place next year as scheduled.

“Elections will occur in Iraq on time in January because Iraqis want elections on time,” Allawi told a joint meeting of Congress, an appearance that President Bush’s advisers hoped would ease American voters’ doubts about the troubled campaign in Iraq.

Despite struggles and setbacks, “the values of liberty and democracy” are taking hold in his country, Allawi proudly exclaimed. “We could hold elections tomorrow” in 15 of 18 provinces, he said, even though terror operatives hope to disrupt them.

“The insurgency in Iraq is destructive but small, and it has not and will never resonate with the Iraqi people,” Allawi said.

He cautioned, however, that the election may not come off perfectly. But he assured it will be free and fair, “a giant step” in Iraq’s political evolution.

“Today, we are better off, you are better off, the world is better off without Saddam Hussein,” Allawi said. He added: “Your decision to go into Iraq was not an easy one, but it was the right one.”

After his address, Allawi was heading to the White House for a meeting with President Bush, where the two leaders were to assert from the Rose Garden that progress is being made and the future is bright in Iraq.

Allawi’s speech before Congress - one of his first to a wider audience than those in Iraq - was punctuated by warm applause and standing ovations. Allawi joined in the applause and smiled broadly as he mingled among the lawmakers afterward.

He echoed several of Bush’s statements on Iraq, and sought to tie his country’s struggle to the larger fight against global terrorism. Declaring himself “a realist,” Allawi said he was trying to broaden the political process, drawing in as many Iraqi entities as possible, in an effort to weaken the insurgency.

Allawi’s two-day visit comes as troop casualties and civilian kidnappings in Iraq have increased, large parts of the country have come under the control of insurgents and doubts have surfaced at the United Nations that democratic elections can be held in January as planned.

“We Iraqis know that Americans have made and continue to make enormous sacrifices to liberate Iraq, to assure Iraq’s freedom,” Allawi said. “I have come here to thank you and to promise you that your sacrifices are not in vain.”

An assessment of Iraq’s future put together recently by U.S. intelligence officials spoke of possibilities ranging from tenuous stability to civil war, and even some senators in Bush’s Republican Party have said there is a need for more candid talk from the White House.

Gen. John Abizaid said Wednesday it was possible that more U.S. troops would be needed to secure Iraq’s elections, but that Iraqi and perhaps international troops may be able to do the job instead.

“I think we will need more troops than we currently have,” Abizaid, commander of U.S. troops in the region, said after briefing the House.

Bush has made clear that the importance of Allawi’s visit lies largely in the opportunity for the Iraqi leader to reinforce for Americans the president’s own confident assessment of Iraq.

Allawi’s visit marked his debut in Washington as prime minister, a post to which the skilled politician, who returned to Iraq last year after 30 years in exile, was appointed by a U.N. envoy with strong U.S. backing. It was also the highlight of a weeklong Bush administration effort to showcase what is going right in Iraq.

Polls show that most voters think Bush made the right decision in using military force in Iraq and agree that the United States should stay as long as it takes to rebuild the nation.

But they also show a growing number alarmed by the casualties and nearly 60 percent are doubtful that Bush has a clear plan for resolving the crisis. That has Bush’s Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, lobbing increasingly sharp attacks the president’s way - and is sowing some worry in Bush campaign headquarters.

Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, suggested that the administration should spend less time staging an attractive photo opportunity and more time adopting a realistic view of the challenges ahead.

“As Prime Minister Allawi comes here, we need real accomplishments and real progress and honest measures of capability, not sound bites of rhetoric which are not substantiated by the figures being issued in detail by the United States government,” he said.

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