AMMAN, Jordan — The assault on Fallujah that began yesterday must be seen as a critical part of the worldwide war on terror, Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi says.
“This is a war that we are waging on behalf of the civilized nations around the world,” he said in an interview conducted for The Washington Times. “The rule of law must prevail, and there’s no other way forward.”
Although he admitted that some of the fighters resisting U.S. and Iraqi forces in the country are loyalists from the regime of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, Mr. Allawi argued that the conflict was being fueled by “evil forces” from outside Iraq.
He announced that 167 foreign fighters had been arrested in Fallujah, Samarra and Mosul, and an additional 109 had been killed.
“They are in custody of Iraq authorities and will be brought to justice very shortly,” he said during a recent visit to Amman, Jordan.
He warned that failure to deal with the foreign infiltrators in Fallujah would lead to the spread of terror worldwide.
“These foreign infiltrators were aiming first to destabilize Iraq, and then they would aim to destabilize the region, then the world — including the United States and Latin America — so we are going after them,” he said.
But Mr. Allawi said Iraq’s interim government would not rely solely on military means to quell the uprising.
“We have laid down some serious plans for the turbulent areas in Iraq, which is really a combination of reaching out to the various people involved on the fringes of the so-called insurgency and also to be ready to respond,” he said.
“We think these plans will work; we are sure they will work.”
Mr. Allawi said the assault on Fallujah would ensure that the “rule of law must prevail” in Iraq.
He insisted that strenuous efforts had been made to avoid a total assault on the city and that he had spent many hours negotiating with representatives of the city.
“The people asked us to help. I had been meeting tribal and important figures from west Iraq, and all of them want us to take action and we are taking action,” he said.
In Baghdad yesterday, a tribal elder from Fallujah said most of the city’s residents opposed the presence of foreign fighters, but complained that the Allawi government had not allowed the locals enough time to drive the foreigners out.
“We needed more time and weapons to take out all these mujahideen,” Sheik Ali Abdullah told The Washington Times by telephone. He said the foreign fighters — mainly Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian and Pakistani — had been able to achieve a degree of control through payments to unemployed citizens.
He warned that the battle for Fallujah would lead to severe casualties and would “spread to all of Iraq and the Middle East.”
With government support and arms, he said, the locals could have driven out the foreign terrorists. He said the top terrorist on the U.S. wanted list, Abu Musab Zarqawi, had long since left the city.
Mr. Allawi said he had responded to such pleas with a stark offer: “We told them: Get the terrorists to surrender or drive them out — or we go in.”
The prime minister also maintained that most of the country is stable. He was particularly pleased with the return to normality in the Shi’ite shrine city of Najaf and the pacification of the capital’s Sadr City slum.
He particularly hailed the success of an arms-purchasing campaign in Sadr City.
“We bought a remarkable number of weapons, heavy artillery, even surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles, that had been looted from the military and some purchased abroad,” he said, adding that more than 5,000 mines had been surrendered.
“Now you can go there and walk — you can have coffee in cafes at 11 p.m. So progress has been made in some areas that a month ago were hot and red and now are much better,” Mr. Allawi said.
Asked about the role of the United States, he said it was the “only superpower in the world.”
He said America was “a stabilizing force … and we need the U.S. to continue to be engaged in a constructive dialogue with us.”
But he also said Iraq must forge ties with other countries and not rely exclusively on U.S. backing.
“We want to get along with the international community and be part of it,” he said.
Distributed by World News & Features.