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Iraqi Elections Will be Held on Time, Prime Minister Promises - 2004-09-23

The interim prime minister of Iraq, Iyad Allawi, has told a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress that the Iraqi people are determined not to allow insurgent and terrorist attacks to spoil plans for elections in January.

Mr. Allawi was attempting to convey his confidence, and that of the interim government he leads, not only in the effort to fight insurgents, but also preparations for a hoped-for election in January.

As he has at various points in his U.S. visit, he said elections will go ahead, and terrorists and insurgents will not prevail. "Let me be absolutely clear. Elections will occur in Iraq, on time, in January, because Iraqis want elections on time," he said.

But Mr. Allawi added that he is a realist, saying terrorism cannot be defeated by political tools alone.

He made a point of appealing for continuing and greater amounts of aid from the United States and the international community for Iraq's reconstruction, elections, and to help with the fight against insurgents.

Despite horrific beheadings of Americans and other foreign workers, he said, it is crucial that the world helps Iraq stand firm. "When governments negotiate with terrorists, everyone in the free world suffers. When political leaders sound the siren of defeatism in the face of terrorism, it only encourages more violence," he said.

Mr. Allawi's speech took place against the backdrop of sharp concern in Congress over mounting U.S. casualties in Iraq, now more than one-thousand dead, with thousands more wounded, and recent victims of terrorism.

He said Iraqis know the U.S. decision to invade Iraq, along with a crucial vote by Congress authorizing such action, was not an easy one. But Iraq and the world, he said, are far better off, without Saddam Hussein in power. "Today, we are better off, you are better off, and the world is better off, without Saddam Hussein," he said.

Frequently in his speech, the Iraqi interim leader took aim at media reports about the situation in Iraq, which he said have ignored progress made since the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

And he took note of remarks made by another foreign leader who addressed Congress, British Prime Minster Tony Blair. "As Prime Minister Blair said to you last year, when he stood here. Anywhere, anytime, ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same. Freedom not tyranny, democracy not dictatorship, and the rule of law not the rule of the secret police," he said.

Mr. Allawi says Iraq is well on the way to assuming the burdens of security from U.S. and coalition forces, predicting 145,000 trained troops, police and counter-terrorism forces by January, when it is hoped an election can take place.

Iraq continues to loom large in the U.S. presidential election campaign.

Opposition Democrats are emphasizing what they call the gap between reality on the ground for U.S. troops in Iraq, and the picture being painted by President Bush and his administration. It remains to be seen how far Mr. Allawi's address to Congress will go toward changing the minds of skeptics, amid continuing negative reports from Iraq.

For his part, Mr. Bush, who met again with Mr. Allawi at the White House Thursday, described the interim prime minister and other members of his government as patriots in the war for Iraq's freedom, and in the war on terrorism.