Iraq's interim prime minister appealed to the United Nations today for help in holding elections scheduled for January, saying members of the world body should honor their pledge to help his country achieve democratic government.
In an address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Ayad Allawi reminded member states of their commitments in a U.N. resolution to support his interim government in organizing elections and laying the groundwork for an effective democracy.
"We need more assistance from our neighbors and the international community as a whole in order to meet all the objectives and translate the aspirations of the Iraqi people into . . . realities," Allawi told the General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting, which attracts dozens of government leaders.
Earlier, in an interview with Washington Post reporters and editors in Washington, D.C., Allawi said he intended to ask U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan "to encourage the United Nations to really get more actively involved in helping us and preparing the elections."
He said he was also seeking an explanation of Annan's statement that the elections may have to be delayed. Allawi has insisted during his visit this week to the United States that the elections would be held on schedule.
His remarks came amid conflicting statements from senior Bush administration officials on whether the elections could be held all over Iraq and whether additional U.S. or other foreign troops might be needed to provide security for them.
Allawi told The Post, "I think the elections should involve all Iraq. All Iraq is capable. This is what we believe in, and this is what we are working towards. And also to make the country secure for the elections to take place."
He said he did not want to get into "theoretical guessing" about whether some parts of Iraq would not be secure enough for voting to take place.
"What I am saying is that we will have the elections," Allawi said. "All Iraq is eligible to be part of the elections, will be part of the elections. The elections should take place in all the country. I don't want to really go into theories whether a village in Basra is not able to cast their votes. . . ."
Secretary of State Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday that Iraq might have to exclude from the elections some places where insurgent violence made it impossible to vote.
"If there were to be an area where the extremists focused during the election period, and an election was not possible in that area at that time, so be it," Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "You have the rest of the election, and you go on. Life's not perfect."
"Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country, but in some places you couldn't because the violence was too great," he said. "Well, so be it. Nothing's perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet."
After meeting with Allawi at the Pentagon today, Rumsfeld told reporters, "We recognize there is an increased level of violence as we move toward these elections."
Rumsfeld said: "Every Iraqi deserves the right to vote. We and the government of Iraq intend to see that the elections are held, intend to see that they're held on time, and to do everything possible to see that that happens, and to see that every Iraqi has the right to vote."
But he again acknowledged that some areas may not be able to hold balloting.
Rumsfeld was contradicted today by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who told a House committee, "We're going to have an election that is free and open and that has to be open to all citizens. It's got to be our best effort to get it into troubled areas as well."
Armitage, the second-ranking official at the State Department, later told reporters, "We absolutely want to hold [elections] in all parts of Iraq." Asked whether limited elections are being considered, he said, "No. Not now. Not that I know of."
In his General Assembly address, Allawi also called on the international community to help Iraq improve border security, fight terrorism and obtain relief from crushing debts inherited from the government of ousted president Saddam Hussein.
He said he wants to broaden the base of countries that are contributing troops to the U.S.-led Multinational Force in Iraq.
He called terrorism "a disease that is spreading all over the world" and said terrorist criminals "shed the blood of innocent people in the name of Islam."
Allawi said, "Today they chose Iraq as their battleground . . . but they will reap nothing but total defeat." He said victory in Iraq would also be a triumph for the world. But he warned, "If we are defeated, it will be your defeat" as well.