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Bush,  Allawi Give Reassurances on Iraq  - 2004-09-23

President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi say democracy will come to Iraq, despite the setbacks of recent days. They vowed at a White House news conference that elections will take place as planned in January.

It was an event that was strong on symbolism, the president standing side-by-side with the interim leader of Iraq.

The two men delivered a joint message: that democracy will come to Iraq and the stakes are too high for the world to turn away.

President Bush said violence may well increase in the months leading up to elections in Iraq. But he vowed the balloting will take place in January.

"The terrorists know that events in Iraq are reaching a decisive moment," president Bush said. "Democracy in Iraq will put down permanent roots and terrorists will suffer a dramatic defeat."

Several times, the president linked the Iraqi insurgents to the global terrorist threat. He said if the United States pulls out of Iraq, they would be free to plot and plan terror attacks elsewhere.

"To retreat now would betray our mission, our word and our friends," he said. "Mr. Prime Minister, America will keep its commitments."

Mr. Bush was asked about the likelihood U.S. military commanders in Iraq will need more troops in order to get the job done. He said they have not asked him for any, but added he would listen to any request. For his part, Prime Minister Allawi stressed more foreign troops are not the answer.

"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," said Mr. Allawi.

Mr. Allawi acknowledged there are dangers in Iraq, noting he is among those in the interim government who have faced death threats. But overall, he painted an optimistic picture of the country, saying the trouble is concentrated in a few provinces and the rest could hold elections tomorrow.

He carried on some of the themes he expressed earlier in the day to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress. Iraq's interim prime minister used the occasion to express his thanks to the American people, and to underscore his determination to see the election process move forward.

"There would be no greater success for the terrorists than if we delay, no greater blow than when the elections take place as they will on schedule," he said.

Mr. Allawi said some question that goal, noting the disturbing images that have emerged from Iraq recently of beheadings and other acts of violence. Mr. Allawi said he understands the doubts, but said democracy will ultimately prevail. He said the first round of elections in Iraq may not be perfect, but he vowed they will be free and fair.

"For the first time in our history, the Iraqi people can look forward to controlling our own destiny," he said.

On Friday, Iraq's interim prime minister will make his case before a different audience when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly.