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Iraq's Prime Minister Says Fallujah Assault Is Least-Damaging Choice

Iraq's prime minister has rejected U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's warning that attacking Fallujah could jeopardize planned elections. In a sharply worded diplomatic rebuke, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi argues that crushing insurgents is the least-damaging choice for making Iraq safe.

Secretary-General Annan sent a letter last week to the leaders of Britain, Iraq and the United States warning against an assault on rebel-held Fallujah. He argued that an all-out offensive could further alienate Iraqis and undermine planned elections set for January.

Baghdad's U.N. Ambassador, Samir Sumaidaie, went to the secretary-general's office Monday to deliver a strongly worded reply. Afterward, he told reporters Iraq has little choice but to rid Fallujah of insurgents if it is to restore the order needed for elections to proceed.

"We have few choices, we have to choose the least dangerous of all the choices ahead of us, and that is to return law and order to Fallujah and return some level of security for civilians because at the moment they have no security, and as things are they are unlikely to be able to participate in any elections," he said.

In his letter to the secretary-general, Prime Minister Allawi calls it "unacceptable" that parts of Iraq have been, in his words "hijacked by terrorists and insurgents." He says the government has "overwhelming evidence" that insurgents are using Fallujah as a base of operations. He expresses surprise that Mr. Annan, in his earlier letter, makes no mention of atrocities committed by the rebels.

After presenting the letter, Ambassador Sumaidaie said he found the secretary-general accepted the government's need to stand up to the insurgency. "He shares our abhorrence of terrorists and their actions, after all the U.N. was one of the first victims of terrorist actions, so there is no lack of support in that direction and in the last analysis, I think the secretary-general accepts that this is an Iraqi matter and a decision must be taken by the Iraqi government," he said.

Secretary-General Annan's office later issued a statement describing the meeting with the Iraqi ambassador as a "serious, yet friendly" discussion of their "differing perspectives on Fallujah."

Ambassador Sumaidaie said he and Mr. Annan had discussed increasing the number of U.N. staff helping with election preparations. He told reporters "we'll hear about that soon."

At present, the world body limits the number of international staff in Iraq to 35 because of security concerns.