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Allawi Asks EU for Help in Iraq

Iraq's interim prime minister appealed to European countries with troops in Iraq not to pull out and asked NATO on Friday to speed up a major expansion in training Iraqi forces, while European leaders offered Iraq more money for elections and security,

At their annual summit, European Union (search) leaders also said they wanted to strengthen the 25-nation bloc's relationship with the newly re-elected President Bush (search), which was deeply strained by the Iraq war. The Dutch prime minister spoke with Bush by phone, passing on Europe's congratulations.

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search), making his first visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, asked alliance leaders to move faster to help Iraq's security forces prepare for national elections due in January.

"Time is of the essence. There is a real battle in Iraq today. Delays measured in hours and days can cost lives," Allawi told NATO's governing body. "Move forward your plans as quickly as possible."

Allawi later met with EU leaders, urging countries like the Netherlands, Hungary, Portugal, Denmark and Poland to stay in Iraq alongside the United States, Britain and Italy.

"Iraq is facing a big challenge, it needs to develop its security capabilities," Allawi told reporters afterward. "A decrease of multinational forces would affect adversely the situation in Iraq, would encourage terrorism."

Hungary and the Netherlands are both considering a March withdrawal of their troops after Iraq's planned January elections. Hungary said this week it won't keep its 300 non-combat troops there beyond March 31. The Czechs plan to pull out by the end of February and the Dutch by the end of March. Italy and have recommitted to keeping troops or police in Iraq.

The EU leaders assured Iraq of "strong support" in a statement and said they would take "necessary action ... as a matter of urgency" to help reconstruction efforts in the wartorn nation.

The 25-nation bloc agreed to send $38.6 million to help pay for the elections in January and some $33 million for a security force to protect U.N. aid workers in Iraq. The new aid was on top of the $371 million in humanitarian and reconstruction aid the EU already has committed this year.

The leaders also promised to send experts to help train election workers and speed up planning for "a possible integrated police, rule of law and civilian administration mission" expected to be launched after the vote.

The statement added that Iraq should benefit from EU preferential trade status "as soon as conditions allow" and the leaders promised to consider a possible cancellation of Iraq's debt.

The European leaders, many of whom were alienated by Bush's first four years in power, also used the summit to underline their desire to put past differences aside and work with the U.S. administration.

"Our deep political, economic and cultural ties make us each other's natural and indispensable partners," they said in the final statement.

But the leaders urged Bush to spend more time consulting with international allies during his second term.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende (search), who chaired the meeting, telephoned Bush and congratulated him on his re-election.

"Both sides expressed a desire to strengthen the relationship," said Frits Kemperman, a Dutch government spokesman. "The American president assured Balkenende that he will invest in relations with Europe."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair — America's staunchest ally in Europe — told The Times newspaper in London that he had spoken with Bush and gained a sense he wanted to build bridges with Europe.

"There was a real sense that in the second term the president has space and energy to develop an agenda that I hope can unify Europe and America. That means reaching out on both sides," Blair was quoted as saying.

NATO, which has around 70 staff members in Iraq, has been working since early September on expanding its training mission, with plans to include 300 instructors and hundreds more guards and support staff to run a military academy for Iraqi officers outside Baghdad.

But final details still need to pass a panel of military experts from the 26 allies and secure political approval from governments. NATO generals also have to find nations willing to contribute troops.

EU officials, meanwhile, said the summit's outreach to Iraq troubled Chirac, who was disturbed that Allawi last week called Germany and France "spectators" of the turmoil in his country.

Chirac left the summit before the meeting with Allawi to attend a memorial service for the president of the United Arab Emirates (search), Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who died Tuesday.

The French leader, however, denied snubbing Allawi.

"The position of France is simple and clear. I want to signal that our relations with the Iraqi authorities is excellent."

Allawi tried to play down his comments.

"What I said, really, was, 'History is history, past is past,' and we need to start afresh and open a new chapter and look to the future," Allawi told reporters. "We definitely want to forge a positive alliance with Europe."

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