Tuesday, December 21, 2004

BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Iyad Allawi says he has held meetings with resistance figures in an attempt to boost Sunni participation in elections next month, telling them that the era of tyranny is over and that democracy is the future of Iraq.

Speaking to a small group of Western reporters inside the heavily fortified green zone Monday afternoon, Mr. Allawi said he had met with figures on the periphery of the resistance as recently as the end of last week.

“What we have to do is to bring those who committed crimes to justice, and the rest should be brought back to the society and live constructive lives,” he said.

“They feel that they have been persecuted and are under pressure. We are trying to assure them and tell them the problem is only with those who have committed crimes. I have issued orders for a lot of them to go back to work.”

Mr. Allawi has begun campaigning on behalf of his “Iraqi” coalition, which has fielded a slate of 275 candidates for the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections, even as he tries to run a shaky government with limited public support.

His coalition is offering strong leadership and a tough line on security. But he said his regular meetings with resistance figures were crucial if the insurgency is to be ended.

“We pass through them messages to say that we are willing to continue to fight; as we fought tyranny, we’ll fight terrorism until the Iraqi people emerge victorious,” he said.

“If they feel they command the respect of the people, go and get elected.”

Mr. Allawi said he had mocked one resistance figure, telling him, “What do you want to do? Are you going to bring [Osama] bin Laden to rule Iraq? Or bring Saddam to rule Iraq?”

Mr. Allawi distinguished between those he called insurgents and terrorists, in an apparent attempt to create a rift between former members of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party and foreign extremists.

He said the two groups had coalesced in Fallujah but might have gone their separate ways since the U.S. assault on the city last month.

“We have entered a phase where we could see a distinction between the terrorists and the insurgents,” he said. “We are seeing a line of division between insurgency and terrorism.

“In Fallujah they were together. But after the Fallujah cleanup, we saw in other places that they’re acting independently of each other.”

Mr. Allawi said he had told the insurgents that he, too, was once a diehard Ba’athist, but since had seen the error of his ways.

“I participated in a coup in 1968,” he said. “I tell them, ‘We are not here to grab the power like we did in 1968. That’s finished. Now we rid Iraq of tyranny, and the people will decide through ballots what kind of government they need.’ ”

A number of the people he has spoken with already have joined the political process, Mr. Allawi said.

In the 45-minute discussion, Mr. Allawi also described his personal relationship with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, saying he consults with the cleric on legal and religious matters.

Mr. Allawi distanced himself from remarks last week by Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan, who accused neighboring Iran of interfering in Iraq’s domestic affairs by supporting Shi’ite political groupings.

“The minister of defense was speaking from his own perspective. He was not speaking from the government’s perspective,” Mr. Allawi said.

The prime minister declared once again that his interim government would do its best to secure the country in time for the elections but that he expected more bloodshed.

“As we get closer to the elections there will be an escalation,” he said. “These attacks are designed and will be designed to disrupt the political process.”

In recent days, Mr. Allawi’s ministers have issued a flood of press releases and held numerous press conferences, raising the government’s public profile just as the election season begins.

But Mr. Allawi said he was not angling to retake the post of prime minister in the new government to be formed after the elections.

“I don’t like [the job],” he said. “It’s very tiring. … It’s very dangerous. I face every day at least two or three attempts to assassinate me.”

“The job, I assure you, practically it’s horrible,” he added.

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