ayad, kofi and john

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    Ayad, Kofi and John
    September 24, 2004;

    Pessimism about Iraq seems to be in fashion, with leaders such as John Kerry and Kofi Annan implying that the world would be better off if Saddam Hussein had never been toppled. So it's been more than a little refreshing to hear the message of hope, resolve and gratitude delivered by Ayad Allawi during his U.S. visit this week.

    Yesterday it was Congress's turn to hear from the interim Iraqi Prime Minister, and he began by thanking them for their "brave vote" in 2002 to authorize American men and women to liberate Iraq: "Your decision to go to war in Iraq was not an easy one but it was the right one."

    Mr. Allawi then offered a convincing list of reasons that there is every chance his country will make a successful transition to democracy early next year. True, violence has been rising ahead of the U.S. election this November and the Iraqi poll scheduled for January, and there will be hard fighting ahead. But the Prime Minister pointed out that at this very moment 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces would be calm enough to organize a vote. He noted the recent success of Iraqi forces in re-establishing control of the troublesome Sunni town of Samarra, as well as the Shiite holy city of Najaf. He added a well-deserved jab at our friends in the media, who reported the fighting there but have since "lost interest and left."

    As for the political process, Mr. Allawi pointed out that Iraqis have already defied the skeptics several times. They've met their January deadline for writing an interim constitution, the scheduled June sovereignty handover, and the August date for a National Conference: "And I pledge to you today, we'll prove them wrong again over the elections."

    That promise was the most important thing we heard the Prime Minister say, since frankly we've been having our own doubts. It's not that we've worried about progress on the Iraqi end. As Mr. Allawi stressed, "Iraqis want elections on time." Rather, it's that the vaunted "international community" has been hinting it may not live up to its promise to organize the vote. Just last week Secretary General Annan -- who pulled out of Iraq entirely after the 2003 bombing on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad -- suggested that security conditions may not be sufficient to send enough employees to do the job.

    At an editorial board meeting with us on Wednesday, Mr. Allawi politely suggested that the Secretary General "probably is misinformed" about the real situation on the ground. He added that he hoped the U.N. would respect its own Resolution 1546 and "do whatever it takes to ensure the elections" are held on time. Mr. Allawi also welcomed NATO's recent decision to step up its training of Iraqi security forces. "The resolve and will of the coalition in supporting a free Iraq is vital to our success," he said. "But these doubters risk underestimating our country and they risk fueling the hopes of the terrorists."

    Mr. Kerry, for one, must not have been listening too carefully to those remarks, given his ungracious reaction to Mr. Allawi's speech. The Senator accused the Prime Minister of "contradicting his own statement[s]" and of putting the "best face" on the situation.

    While Mr. Kerry has every right to criticize U.S. conduct of the war, one would think he'd be wiser than to attack Mr. Allawi for saying it will be possible to hold the same elections that Mr. Kerry said just this Monday were his own exit strategy from Iraq. Or to accuse Iraq's Prime Minister of painting an unrealistic picture about a country the Senator has never visited. Having described the U.S. allies who liberated Iraq as a "coalition of the bribed," Mr. Kerry now insults the Iraqis he'd be working with if he becomes President.

    Our one big disagreement with what Mr. Allawi had to say concerns the trials of Saddam and his henchmen. The Prime Minister told us that the trials would start soon, which is good. But he also hinted that they would be rapid and said flat out that they wouldn't be televised. We think this would be a grave mistake. Iraqis and Arabs generally need to see justice done, and a historical record of Saddam's crimes should be produced like that of the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials. If, as we suspect, the quick and quiet approach is part of an Allawi-CIA political strategy not to further upset the Baathists who remain on the loose, it is very shortsighted.

    But overall the Prime Minister had the right message, and his reception by Congress suggests that President Bush would have done better by heeding those of his advisers who urged the naming of an interim Iraqi government in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 liberation. We'd add from firsthand experience that Mr. Allawi's positive attitude is shared by the vast majority of Iraqis themselves. With American resolve and a little luck -- inshallah, as Iraqis would say -- there is every reason to believe the country will have a democratically legitimate government come January.
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