UNITED NATIONS – In his first address to world leaders gathered at UN headquarters, Iraq’s Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi urged the wealthiest countries to forgive Iraq’s debts and described his nation’s future as a battle between the forces of democracy and extremism.
"Our struggle is your struggle, our victory will be your victory. And if we are defeated, it will be your defeat," Allawi told the 59th General Assembly. "I appeal to all representatives from the countries gathered here to help Iraq defeat the forces of terrorism and help Iraq build a better future for the people of Iraq."
The prime minister, who was appointed in June by the outgoing Coalition Provisional Authority, urged more countries to send troops to bolster the current U.S.-led multinational force, seemingly contradicting statements he made Thursday: "To have more troops, we don’t need."
"What we need really is to train more Iraqis because this is ultimately for Iraqis, for Iraqi security forces to take responsibility for their own security and to defend the rest of the civilized world," he said.
Allawi had spent the day with President George W. Bush in Washington, where concerns about the upcoming January elections were high on the agenda. Election and political party laws have already been passed, and an independent electoral commission created, but the relentless barrage of attacks on occupation and Iraqi forces has many wondering how viable a national poll would be under current circumstances.
"In 15 out of 18 Iraqi provinces, the security situation is good for elections to be held tomorrow," Allawi told a special joint session of the U.S. Congress. "Here Iraqis are getting on with their daily lives, hungry for the new political and economic freedoms they are enjoying. Although this is not what you see in your media, it is a fact."
His upbeat remarks contrasted with the view of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a critic of the Iraq war, who recently warned that there could not be "credible elections if the security conditions continue as they are now."
Bush himself is currently in the midst of a squeaker election and likely hoped that a joint appearance with the grateful Iraqi leader who made a point of thanking the United States for invading his country would give him a bounce in the polls.
The latest surveys indicate that 54 percent of U.S. citizens think the troops in Iraq should be withdrawn by next year. Only 12 percent believe the military effort there is going "very well."
Allawi’s assessment of the security situation drew immediate fire from the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry, who has sharply stepped up his attacks on the president’s handling of Iraq in recent days.
"I think the prime minister is obviously contradicting his own statement of a few days ago when he said that terrorists are pouring into the country," Kerry told reporters.
"The prime minister and the president are here obviously to put their best face on the policy, but the fact is that the CIA estimates, the reporting, the ground operations and the troops all tell a different story."
Kerry has said he would seek broader international involvement in rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq, and criticized Bush for delivering a speech at the United Nations this week but failing to follow up with the heads of state assembled there.
"The president skedaddled out of New York so quickly he barely had time to talk to any leaders," Kerry said.
Meanwhile, Iraqis perceived as collaborating with the occupation forces are increasingly targeted by insurgent groups. Police recruits in particular have been singled out for retribution, with hundreds killed in shootings, bombings and mortar attacks across the country since the fall of Baghdad in March 2003.
The day before Allawi told the U.S. Congress that Iraq was quickly developing its own security forces through a massive buildup of the army, police and national guard, a suicide bomber struck for the second time in 24 hours near where national guard recruits were waiting for interviews, killing at least 11 people in west Baghdad.
"We need the government or the multinational forces whoever to treat us as human beings and not as machines," Col. Safaa Ali, the commander of a Baghdad police district, said Thursday. "All of us are exhausted."