- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

President Bush spoke yesterday with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, assuring him that the United States will do everything it can to secure the country for Sunday’s elections and expressing satisfaction with the “widespread enthusiasm” among Iraqis to get to the polls.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the two men have spoken by phone at least six times in the past few days and will continue to talk regularly as election day approaches.

“The president underscored how this election will be an historic moment for the people of Iraq,” Mr. McClellan said, describing the five-minute conversation. “We want to do everything we can to help support the Iraqi people as they move forward on holding these elections.”

Mr. McClellan said the White House is encouraged by an announcement by majority Shi’ite leaders in Iraq that they will not push for a theology-based government and that the largest Sunni party has backed away from its boycott of the election and wants to take part in the drafting of the country’s new constitution.

“We want to encourage as broad a participation in those elections as possible,” Mr. McClellan said. “Prime Minister Allawi is reaching out to all sectors of the Iraqi community. He’s reaching out to the Sunnis. He’s reaching out to all sectors, to encourage broad participation.”

Mr. Allawi yesterday rejected calls by some in the United States and the United Nations for setting a timeline for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq after the elections.

“Others spoke about the immediate withdrawal or setting a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces,” Mr. Allawi said. “I will not deal with the security matter under political pretexts and exaggerations that do not serve Iraq and its people.

“I will not set final dates,” he said, “because setting final dates will be futile and dangerous.”

Mr. McClellan, agreed, saying, “We should not be discussing those types of timetables right now.

“I think that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi leaders understand the importance of the multinational forces being there to help address these security threats and to help to expand the Iraqi security forces so that over time we’ll be able to look at our troop strength and make those decisions based on the circumstances on the ground,” Mr. McClellan said.

Iraqis on Sunday will take part in the country’s first free elections to pick a 275-member National Assembly that will begin to draft a constitution. The 14 million registered voters will see a ballot with 19,000 candidates and 256 political parties. Polls indicate turnout could be high, despite threats of violence by terrorists and former Saddam Hussein loyalists.

Terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, dubbed by Osama bin Laden as the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, this week declared “a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology.”

Zarqawi associates claimed yesterday to have attacked at least 10 polling places in the past two days.

“Trained snipers will be ready to kill the apostates who go to the electoral lairs,” reads a statement signed by Zarqawi’s group and handed out Monday in the town of Al-Dur.

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