BAGHDAD – Iraq's new prime minister made his first address to the nation Friday, saying security was his top priority, calling for an end to guerrilla attacks and telling Iraqis that the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops now would be a "major disaster."
The televised speech by Iyad Allawi (search) — a longtime exile with close ties to the CIA and State Department but with little popular support in Iraq — was the first by an Iraqi head of government since Saddam Hussein fell a year ago.
For the past year, such addresses have come from L. Paul Bremer, the top official in the U.S. occupation authority — or from the president of the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council, a position that rotated every month.
Allawi, appointed last week to head the interim government taking power on June 30, told Iraqis: "Your government sees that only the restoration of security and the safeguarding of citizens' dignity, honor and money will allow us to successfully proceed on the political track and achieve the transfer of full sovereignty."
He defended the continued presence of 138,000 U.S. troops and thousands of troops from other nations on Iraqi soil even after the handover of sovereignty.
"The targeting of the multinational forces under the leadership of the United States to force them to leave Iraq would inflict a major disaster on Iraq, especially before the completion of the building of security and military institutions," Allawi said.
"And I would like to mention here that the coalition forces, too, have offered up the blood of their sons as a result of terror attacks," he said.
The speech was aired on Al-Iraqiyah, the nationwide TV station set up and funded by the United States, and was picked up by Arab satellite stations Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. Throughout the speech, the camera focused tightly on Allawi's face, giving no indication of where he was speaking from.
Allawi also said the new president, Ghazi al-Yawer (search), will attend the Group of Eight summit being hosted by President Bush in Sea Island, Ga., next week.
Allawi was named to head the 33-member government in part because he was seen as strong on security. The administration will rule Iraq until elections are held by Jan. 31 to create a national assembly, which will then choose a new government.
The prime minister thanked the United States, Britain and other coalition nations for their role in ousting the former regime. But he added "Iraqis can never accept occupation."
"We are ready to end the occupation and receive sovereignty on June 30 and our government has begun effective participation in the ongoing discussions in the (U.N.) Security Council to adopt a new resolution regarding the transfer of full sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government," he said.
Allawi said his administration would work toward national unity after the divisions created by the fall of Saddam Hussein and the U.S. occupation.
"Former Baathists can live with dignity in society so long as they have not committed any crimes," he added.
The government will soon issue regulations on the entry of foreigners into the country. Iraqis have complained that U.S. forces were not diligent enough in curbing the entry of foreign terrorists and criminals following the collapse of Saddam's regime in April 2003.
Allawi, a Shiite Muslim, also expressed appreciation to the country's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani (search), and others in the "revered religious leadership in supporting the political process..."
Al-Sistani gave a tacit endorsement of the new government if it succeeds in regaining full sovereignty, preparing for new elections, and improving security and conditions for Iraq's 25 million people.
On the economy, Allawi cited inflation, unemployment and a weak purchasing power as the main economic problem facing Iraq. He said the government planned to stabilize the exchange rate for the dinar, improve living conditions and boost oil output. He offered no details.