Bush and Allawi Say Iraqi Voting Won't Be Put Off
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
Published: September 24, 2004
WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 - President Bush and Prime Minister Ayad Allawi of Iraq vowed in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday that Iraq would hold free elections as scheduled in January, even though Mr. Bush acknowledged the "persistent violence" in some parts of the country and Dr. Allawi conceded that the elections "may not be perfect."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld spoke openly for the first time on Thursday about the possibility that the elections might be held only in parts of Iraq.
"Let's say you tried to have an election, and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country, but some places you couldn't because the violence was too great," Mr. Rumsfeld said at a hearing on Capitol Hill. "Well, that's so be it. Nothing's perfect in life."
But on a day when Republicans and Democrats used Dr. Allawi to reinforce starkly opposed campaign messages about Iraq, Mr. Bush and his ally presented, over all, a rosy picture of the country. In contrast, Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, seized on the visit to paint a bleak portrait of Iraq and a Bush administration in disarray. [Page A21]
By the end of the day, it was clear that Dr. Allawi's visit to Washington, his first as Iraq's interim prime minister, was not simply a state visit but a politically charged moment with the debate on the course of the war intensifying.
"I stand here today as the prime minister of a country emerging finally from dark ages of violence, aggression, corruption and greed," Dr. Allawi told a joint meeting of Congress before his appearance at the White House, using language that echoed Mr. Bush's campaign speeches about Iraq. "Like almost every Iraqi, I have many friends who were murdered, tortured or raped by the regime of Saddam Hussein."
In the Rose Garden two hours later, Dr. Allawi and Mr. Bush continually cited progress in a nation that has been plagued by an emboldened insurgency, suicide bombings and the recent beheadings of two American hostages.
"You can understand it's tough and still be optimistic," Mr. Bush said. "You can understand how hard it is and believe we'll succeed."
Dr. Allawi, a former neurologist with close ties to the Central Intelligence Agency, was selected as interim prime minister in May by a United Nations envoy under heavy pressure from the United States. He said in the Rose Garden that he received a threat on his life every day and that in the last month he had learned of four conspiracies to kill him.
Mr. Bush, in his enthusiasm to portray what he called progress in Iraq, went so far as to say that polls there asking people whether the country was on the right or wrong track showed more positive results than similar opinion polls in the United States.
"I saw a poll that said the right track/wrong track in Iraq was better than here in America," Mr. Bush said, chuckling. "It's pretty darn strong. I mean, the people see a better future."
A Kerry campaign spokesman, Joe Lockhart, responded that Mr. Bush must be "unhinged from reality" to cite such a poll.
Mr. Kerry, at a news conference in Columbus, Ohio, said Dr. Allawi was not making sense, pointing in particular to his assertion to Congress that the terrorists in Iraq were on the defensive.
"I think the prime minister is, obviously, contradicting his own statement of a few days ago where he said the terrorists are pouring into the country," Mr. Kerry said. "The prime minister and the president are here, obviously, to put their best face on the policy. But the fact is that the C.I.A. estimates, the reporting, the ground operations and the troops all tell a different story."
Mr. Bush in turn used his 47-minute appearance with Dr. Allawi to implicitly criticize what his campaign has called Mr. Kerry's many flip-flops on Iraq, although the president did not use Mr. Kerry's name. The president said people who sent a "mixed signal" on Iraq could embolden terrorists.
"I think it's very important for the American president to mean what he says," Mr. Bush said. "That's why I understand that the enemy could misread what I say." He added: "I don't want them to be emboldened by any confusion or doubt. I don't want them to think that, well, maybe all they got to do is attack and we'll shirk our duty."
The president also said that he and Dr. Allawi expected violence to increase as the January elections draw closer, and that if the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. John P. Abizaid, asked him for more troops to secure the nation ahead of the election, "I would listen to him."
General Abizaid told members of Congress on Wednesday that he anticipated the need for more Iraqi or international troops to help with the elections, but he did not rule out adding to the current 140,000 American troops in Iraq.
The president, when asked about General Abizaid's statement, replied: "He was in my office this morning. He didn't say that to me, but if he were to say that, I'd listen to him. Just like I've said all along, that when our commanders say that they need support, they'll get support, because we're going to succeed in his mission."
Top Pentagon officials, including Mr. Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that as soon as Mr. Allawi took office in June he began moving to strengthen Iraqi security forces, increasing the goal for their eventual numbers and seeking to add armored units.
A significant part of the Bush administration's recently requested shift of spending from reconstruction to security will be used to pay for that plan, the officials said.
Republicans and Democrats dueled through the day on nearly every statistic put forth about Iraq.
Mr. Bush and Dr. Allawi asserted in the Rose Garden that there were nearly 100,000 fully trained and equipped Iraqi soldiers, police officers and other security officials in the country. But Mr. Kerry said only 5,000 Iraqi soldiers had been trained.
Dr. Allawi said at the White House that of the 18 provinces in Iraq, "14 to 15 are completely safe" and that only three provinces had "pockets of terrorists" who were inflicting damage there and elsewhere in the country.
Mr. Kerry said that "at the moment, I think that most people would tell you that the United States and the Iraqis have retreated from whole areas of Iraq," that there were "no go" zones in Iraq today and that "you can't hold an election in a no go zone."
Dr. Allawi's optimism was also at odds with the private view of some of Mr. Bush's senior advisers, who have said in recent days that the American military's main problem is that it is not full control of Baghdad.
A few hours later, Mr. Bush appeared at a campaign rally in Bangor, Me., and stepped up his attacks on Mr. Kerry. Referring to "my opponent,'' Mr. Bush said it was critical "not to wilt or waver or send mixed messages to the enemy.'' The president used the word "wilt'' several times in reference to Mr. Kerry.
"Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld spoke openly for the first time on Thursday about the possibility that the elections might be held only in parts of Iraq."
Ah, the true measure of a fair, democratic election - When only 25% of the population gets to vote. Welcome to America in 1792.