- The Washington Times - Friday, November 5, 2004

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who recently angered the United States by calling the war in Iraq “illegal,” has weighed in again with a letter to President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi warning against attacking Fallujah.

“The threat or actual use of force not only risks deepening the sense of alienation of certain communities, but would also reinforce perceptions among the Iraqi population of a continued military occupation,” Mr. Annan wrote in the letter.

All three of the letter’s recipients said it was not for Mr. Annan — but for the Iraqi government — to decide whether and when an offensive was necessary against the terrorist stronghold west of Baghdad.

Mr. Annan discussed his concerns with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Sunday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

“In this regard, frankly, we differ,” Mr. Boucher said.

“The situation in Fallujah remains difficult and unstable,” he said. “Restoration of peace in Fallujah and other towns is very important to [the Iraqis] and to us, and it needs to be done soon for the sake of the people who live there, who deserve a chance to participate in the political process.”

Mr. Allawi, who was in Brussels yesterday for a meeting with leaders of the European Union, was more blunt.

“It was a confused letter, really, and message that I got from him. It’s not clear to me, and we are now seeking clarification,” Mr. Allawi told the British Broadcasting Corp.

“I don’t know what he means by ‘not to attack’ or ‘to attack.’ What are the substitutes? I don’t know what pressure he has to bear on the insurgents,” Mr. Allawi said of Mr. Annan. “If he can stop the insurgents from inflicting damage and killing Iraqis, then he is welcome.”

In London, the Foreign Office also was dismissive of Mr. Annan’s warning.

“He’s allowed to say what he wants. But nevertheless we listen to the Iraqi government in this respect. Fallujah is a matter for the government of Iraq,” one official said.

“It is easy for people not in Iraq to underestimate the overwhelming concern that the Iraqis themselves have for their security,” he said. “So you cannot have an area as big as Fallujah which is allowed to be a base for terrorism.”

Mr. Annan’s letter to the three leaders, first reported in the Los Angeles Times, came as the U.S. military continued daily air strikes against militant targets in Fallujah in anticipation of an offensive against the rebel-held town.

Although the United Nations has been called on to play a major role in the elections slated for late January, Mr. Annan has been reluctant to send to Iraq more than a limited number of U.N. staffers because of the dangerous security situation there.

“I and all my colleagues at the United Nations Secretariat want to help,” he said. “But we need a conducive environment if elections are to produce a positive effect.”

Fallujah is believed to be an operating base for Islamist terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi and his followers, who have claimed responsibility for numerous attacks, assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings.

Mr. Annan has been a critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq from the beginning.

In September, he went so far as to call it “illegal” — a claim Mr. Powell speedily rejected in an interview with The Washington Times.

U.N. officials yesterday confirmed that Mr. Annan sent the letter on Sunday, but they appeared frustrated that it had been leaked.

“The secretary-general has a pretty wide-ranging correspondence with world leaders and he regards such correspondence as privileged,” U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast said in New York.

Not all of Iraq’s leaders agree with the prime minister.

“Using force that kills civilians on a large scale is a mistake. The logic of occupation must end,” Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati said on Thursday.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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