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Iraqi Diplomat in US Says Most Iraqis Oppose Fighters Battling US Troops - 2004-04-09

Iraq's Ambassador-designate to the United States is playing down the violence by Sunni and Shiite rebels against the U.S.-led coalition in the country. During a visit to Capitol Hill Thursday, Ambassador-designate Rend al-Rahim said the majority of Iraqis want democracy.

Ms. al-Rahim says news accounts of the fighting in Iraq are not giving an accurate picture of what's happening in most of the country. She says Shiite and Sunni rebels who are battling U.S.-led troops represent a small segment of the population.

"Here, we have certain slivers of society that are disaffected, that rightly or wrongly feel they have grievances, and also that have political ambitions that may or may not be justified. They are not endorsed by the 25 million people in Iraq," she said.

At a meeting with Republican Senators, Ms. al-Rahim said the vast majority of Iraqis want democracy.

Ms. al-Rahim, who was born in Baghdad and became and American citizen in 1987, said democracy has begun to take hold in the Iraq, with the formation of political parties and the creation of more than 350 newspapers offering a range of political opinions.

But Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, said he is concerned about the prospects of the unrest spreading in the country.

"It is important that we act quickly, decisively, house to house if necessary to put down this insurgency that we are facing as we speak," he said.

Senator McCain, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said he does not believe the United States is on the verge of losing Iraq, but he added, in his words, 'losing is not an option'.

Also on hand for the news conference was Ali Alattar, a member of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy, a U.S.-based non-profit, non-governmental organization aimed at promoting democratic change in Iraq.

While he praised the work of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, he urged it to refrain from being too heavy-handed in its response to the protests of what he described as disenfranchised Iraqis.

"We have to deal with this issue in a more sensitive way, not to inflame the feelings of the Iraqis," he said. "We do not want to make a distance between us as Americans and the regular Iraqi people. These Iraqis are jobless, they have 70 percent unemployment, they need to feed their families. When they are not seeing things at the same pace at which they are expecting them, I think we should expect some anger."

In a related development, legislation was introduced in the Senate aimed at promoting political and economic development in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, and Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat and former presidential candidate, say their bill is aimed at combating conditions that they say fuel terrorism, including poverty and lack of freedom.

The legislation would create three international institutions that would promote democratic reform, private sector development and interregional trade.

Senator Lieberman, speaking on the Senate floor, compared the proposal to the Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild Europe after World War II.

"If we invest in the political and economic future of the Middle East and Central Asia in our time as we did in Europe with the Marshall Plan after the second World War and at the beginning of the Cold War, we will expand democracy's reach, choke off the terrorists, strengthen our own national security and move the world toward greater peace," he said.

Senator Lieberman says the legislation would build upon President Bush's so-called Greater Middle East Initiative, which would promote democratic reform in the region. The United States plans to introduce the proposal at the Group of Eight meeting of industrialized nations in the U-S state of Georgia in June.