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WASHINGTON - Iraq?s interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi went before Congress on Thursday to stress that progress is being made in bringing democracy to his country and to deliver a message of gratitude on behalf of the Iraqi people. ?Thank you, America,? he said, adding that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis support the U.S.-led military operation that toppled Saddam Hussein from power.
In an appearance that President Bush?s advisers hoped would ease American voters? doubts about the troubled campaign in Iraq, Allawi told a joint meeting of Congress that despite struggles and setbacks, ?the values of liberty and democracy? are taking hold there.
?Today, we are better off, you are better off, the world is better off without Saddam Hussein,? Allawi said.
Commitment to election timetable He also vowed that elections will take place as scheduled early next year.
"Elections will occur in Iraq on time in January because Iraqis want elections on time," Allawi said.
He cautioned 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.
Allawi acknowledged that his country continues to be wracked by violence, and offered his "thoughts and prayers" to the families of two American hostages beheaded in Iraq this week.
But he said it would be a mistake to let the killings and bombings weaken America's will to see the mission through.
"As we mourn these losses, we must not forget the progress we are making or what is at stake in Iraq," he said. "We are fighting for freedom and democracy ? ours and yours."
Despite recent polls showing that most Iraqis want U.S.-led occupation forces to leave the country, the neurosurgeon-turned-politician said that his people appreciate America?s ?enourmous sacrifices? to free them from Saddam?s yoke.
?The overwhelming majority of Iraqis are grateful ... grateful for the chance to build a better future,? he said.
He also thanked Congress for supporting Bush in authorizing the war.
?Your decision to go to war in Iraq was not an easy one but it was the right one,? he said.
White House meeting with Bush After his address to a joint session of Congress, Allawi was to meet with President Bush at the White House, capping a two-day, whirlwind trip through Washington.
The prime minister?s visit 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.
An assessment of Iraq?s future put together recently by U.S. intelligence officials spoke of possibilities ranging from tenuous stability to civil war, and even some GOP senators have said there is a need for more candid talk from the White House.
Gen. John Abizaid 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, commander of U.S. troops in the region, said after briefing the House.
President stays on message Bush has made clear that the importance of Allawi?s visit lies largely in the opportunity for the Iraqi leader to reinforce for Americans the president?s own confident assessment of Iraq.
?The American people have seen horrible scenes on our TV screens,? the president said Tuesday when the two leaders appeared together at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York. ?And the prime minister will be able to say to them that in spite of the sacrifices being made, in spite of the fact that Iraqis are dying and U.S. troops are dying, as well, that there is a will amongst the Iraqi people to succeed.?
Allawi?s visit marked his debut in Washington as prime minister, a post the skilled politician, who returned to Iraq last year after 30 years in exile, was appointed to by a U.N. envoy with strong U.S. backing. It was also the highlight of a weeklong Bush administration effort to showcase what is going right in Iraq.
Bush continues to speak of the Iraq invasion primarily as a success story that is improving the lives of Iraqis and making the world safer, if only America does not shrink from the task.
?Freedom is finding a way in Iraq,? he said in an address at the United Nations this week. ?The proper response to difficulty is not to retreat, it is to prevail.?
Allawi, too, has remained on message.
?It?s very important for the people of the world really to know that we are winning, we are making progress in Iraq,? he said in New York. ?Unfortunately, the media have not been covering these significant gains.?
Voters show concern about Iraq situation Polls show that most voters think Bush made the right decision in using military force in Iraq and agree that the United States should stay as long as it takes to rebuild the nation.
But they also show a growing number alarmed by the casualties and nearly 60 percent are doubtful that Bush has a clear plan for resolving the crisis. That has Bush?s Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, lobbing increasingly sharp attacks the president?s way on the topic ? and is sowing some worry in Bush campaign headquarters.
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