Bush says terrorists could "plot and plan" other attacks if U.S. leaves Iraq
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – Standing beside Iraq’s interim leader, President Bush contended Thursday that insurgents could “plot and plan attacks elsewhere, in America and other free nations,” if the United States pulled out. He said his top commander there has not asked for more troops but if he did, “I’d listen to him.”
After meeting with interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, Bush said he expects violence in Iraq to escalate as the country moves toward elections scheduled for January. Even so, Allawi said more foreign troops are not needed.
In a clear jab at Democratic opponent John Kerry, Bush said the United States must remain in Iraq to fight insurgents, who he said are part of the global terror threat.
“If we stop fighting the terrorists in Iraq, they would be free to plot and plan attacks elsewhere, in America and other free nations,” he said.
Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East, said Wednesday it was possible that more U.S. troops would be needed to secure Iraq’s elections, but that Iraqi and perhaps international troops may be able to do the job instead. “I think we will need more troops than we currently have,” Abizaid said.
When asked about Abizaid’s comment, Bush said Abizaid was in his office Thursday morning and did not mention the need for more troops. “But if he were to say that, I’d listen to him,” Bush said.
“It’s like I’ve said all along, that when our commanders say they need support they’ll get support, because we’re going to succeed in this mission,” Bush said.
Allawi, however, discounted the need for more foreign troops on the ground in Iraq. “To have more troops, we don’t need,” he said, suggesting that Iraq instead should train its own security forces.
Kerry has said that U.S. forces can prevail in Iraq if led properly, and he’s set a goal of beginning to withdraw troops within six months of taking office and of being out of Iraq in four years.
Speaking in Columbus, Ohio just before Bush and Allawi appeared in the Rose Garden, Kerry said: “The prime minister and the president are here, obviously, to put their best face on the policy. But the fact is that the CIA estimates, the reporting, the ground operations and the troops all tell a different story.”
Despite Bush’s and Allawi’s contentions, Kerry said, things are not getting better in Iraq “and we need to change the course to protect our troops and to win.”
While Bush and Allawi spoke, Kerry campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart said Bush must be “unhinged from reality” to cite a poll suggesting that there are more Iraqis who feel their country is on the right track than there are U.S. voters who feel the same about their own.
“He just basically said a country that is dissolving into potential civil war, where terrorists have taken over large section of the country and where American can no longer secure four major cities, that the people over there think better of their country than people here in the United States,” Lockhart said. “That’s what I call unhinged from reality.”
Allawi’s two-day visit to Washington comes as troop casualties and civilian kidnappings in Iraq have increased, large parts of the country have come under the control of insurgents and doubts have surfaced at the United Nations that democratic elections can be held in January as planned.
Allawi acknowledged that the past few days have been difficult, marked by the beheadings of two American captives as well as insurgent violence that killed many Iraqis. Still, he painted an optimistic picture, insisting that “14 to 15” Iraqi provinces are safe.
No one wants international forces in Iraq longer than necessary, Allawi said. But they are very much needed now.
“There are dangers in Iraq. There are problems. We are facing international terrorists,” Allawi said. “But the Iraqis are not deterred.”
Before meeting with Bush, Allawi told a joint meeting of Congress that his country is moving successfully past the war that ousted Saddam Hussein and vowed that elections will take place next year as scheduled, “because Iraqis want elections on time.”
Despite struggles and setbacks, “the values of liberty and democracy” are taking hold in his country, Allawi proudly exclaimed. “We could hold elections tomorrow” in 15 of 18 provinces, he said, even though terror operatives hope to disrupt them.
“The insurgency in Iraq is destructive but small, and it has not and will never resonate with the Iraqi people,” Allawi said.
He cautioned, however, that the election may not come off perfectly. But he assured it will be free and fair, “a giant step” in Iraq’s political evolution.
“Today, we are better off, you are better off, the world is better off without Saddam Hussein,” Allawi said. He added: “Your decision to go into Iraq was not an easy one, but it was the right one.”
Allawi’s speech before Congress – one of his first to a wider audience than those in Iraq – was punctuated by warm applause and standing ovations. Allawi joined in the applause and smiled broadly as he mingled among the lawmakers afterward.
He echoed several of Bush’s statements on Iraq, and sought to tie his country’s struggle to the larger fight against global terrorism. Declaring himself “a realist,” Allawi said he was trying to broaden the political process, drawing in as many Iraqi entities as possible, in an effort to weaken the insurgency.
Lawmakers praised Allawi’s presentation. “It was filled with promise and hope and strength,” said Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del. “He accomplished the goal of stressing the positives,” while acknowledging that difficulties remains, said Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I.
“He said what he had to say,” said Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. “It was optimistic…It was very positive.” But, Skelton added, “I would feel better if the Iraqi people would express their gratitude and stop harboring those insurgents. That’s the way to express gratitude to America.”