Allawi Begins European Tour

To Bolster Support for Iraq

ROME -- Ayad Allawi, Iraq's interim prime minister, began a European tour Thursday in hopes of persuading countries that have kept the conflict at arm's length to help out and governments that are considering troop withdrawals to stay in.

"To the countries that up to now have been spectators, I turn to them and ask for their help to create a better Iraq," he said as he met with Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi, an enthusiastic backer of Bush administration policy in Iraq, pledged to keep Italy's 3,000 or so troops there.

Allawi's visit coincides with word from Hungary on troop withdrawals. Officials plan to have troops leave Iraq by the end of March. Poland indicated previously that it would begin a force reduction after the Iraqi elections planned for January.

Allawi is scheduled to meet with European Union officials later this week, but French President Jacques Chirac, a critic of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, will not be among them. Chirac is set to leave an E.U. summit in Brussels early Friday, before Allawi's arrival. Allawi angered the French government with remarks he made in September criticizing France for not participating in the occupation and asserting that its absence would not protect it from terrorist attacks.

On Thursday, Allawi met with Pope John Paul II for about 10 minutes. The pope, who also has criticized the invasion of Iraq, urged Allawi to bring the country to democratic rule. He said he was praying for "all the victims of terrorism and wanton violence."

-- Daniel Williams

EUROPE

* BRUSSELS -- The incoming president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, proposed a changed E.U. executive in a quest for support from the European Parliament, which had objected to some members of his original team.

In the new lineup, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini will replace Rocco Buttiglione as justice and security commissioner. Buttiglione's conservative views on gays and marriage had sparked an unprecedented parliamentary rejection of the team.

The taxation and energy positions also changed.

AFRICA

* BOUAKE, Ivory Coast -- Government warplanes bombed the largest city in the rebel-held north in waves of attacks, breaking a more than year-old cease-fire in the civil war that split West Africa's former economic powerhouse.

"We are going to reconquer our territory and reunify Ivory Coast," said Col. Philippe Mangou, a government military chief for operations.

There was no official word on casualties. Rebels said 25 civilians were injured. The French relief group Doctors Without Borders said the raids injured 39 people, 14 of them civilians. The group said it believed some people had been killed.

The United Nations called the attacks a major violation of the cease-fire and suspended all humanitarian work in Ivory Coast.

-- From News Services