UNITED NATIONS – Iraq's interim prime minister appealed to world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly (search) Friday to unite behind his country's effort to reign in spiraling violence and lighten the country's foreign debt and broaden support for coalition forces to improve security ahead of the January elections.
Ayad Allawi (search), in comments after his speech, also insisted that the elections will be held on schedule and that "all eligible Iraqis will be able to vote" — comments that came amid concern that some areas may be inaccessible to voting due to the insurgency.
Standing before many member nations that opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq, he urged the international community to set aside its differences over the legality of the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
"Do not be neutral in this struggle. Do not remain idle, but join us for our sake and for your own sake," Allawi told world leaders, speaking at the rostrum where U.S. President George W. Bush (search) on Monday had defended his decision to go to war.
"I do recognize that some countries here objected to the war that brought down the regime of Saddam Hussein and his oppression and liberated Iraq, and that is their right," Allawi said.
"But differences over this issue should not remain an obstacle to establishing a new cooperation of relations that would allow Iraq to receive serious international support in order to consolidate security, freedom and democracy in our country," he said.
Allawi's assurances about the January elections came as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Congress the elections must be held throughout the country, including areas gripped by violence.
That contradicted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who said Thursday and again Friday that if insurgents prevent Iraqis from voting in some areas, a partial vote would be better than none at all. He stressed, however, that "every Iraqi deserves the right to vote."
His speech was warmly received by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
"This was an excellent opportunity for the prime minister to lay out his agenda before the international community and make an appeal for their support," Ambassador John Negroponte said at the United Nations. "I'm confident elections can and will take place before the end of January."
Allawi, speaking to reporters after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said there would be "no partial elections" and "every eligible Iraqi will be able to vote."
When asked about the different positions of the U.S. officials, he said, "This is hypothetical, we are talking about an election in January. We are now still in September ... by January I would hope that everything is settled."
Doubts about the timing of the vote have been raised amid an upsurge of violence, hostage-taking and beheadings in Iraq and the inability of U.S.-led forces to secure volatile parts of the country that are wholly or partly controlled by insurgents, such as Fallujah.
Allawi and Annan also discussed the need to provide security for U.N. workers to return to Iraq to help with the election.
The United Nations withdrew its foreign staff after deadly attacks on its offices in Iraq and has been reluctant to commit more than the 35 election officials already authorized because of the danger of the assignment.
"The secretary-general assured the prime minister that the U.N. will give all possible support in advising and assisting the Independent Electoral Commission," Annan said in a statement. It also said "additional personnel would be sent as circumstances permit."
Allawi said international assistance was needed immediately and warned that Iraq's foreign debt was the country's "most serious obstacle on road to development and stability."
He encouraged creditor nations to take more steps in forgiving some of the "unjust burden" that he noted was mostly incurred by the former regime. Iraq has an estimated $120 billion in foreign debt.
Allawi said that "an extreme, tiny minority" was seeking to undermine Iraq's reconstruction efforts.
"These are not freedom fighters, as is claimed by partisan circles," he said, referring to foreign fighters and elements of the insurgency. "They do not intend to liberate our country. They aim at the dreams and aspirations of the Iraqi people."
He also asked the United Nations to help with the tribunal that will try Saddam and other regime officials.
U.S. officials in Iraq have downplayed the likelihood that the former Iraqi dictator's trial could begin anytime soon because of legal issues. Saddam's international legal defense team has been repeatedly threatened with death if they enter Iraq.
Allawi stressed the need for a broader support base of countries contributing to the multinational force in Iraq, saying they would be key in helping with the elections and with other security requirements.
"But they will reap nothing but failure and total defeat," he said. "Therefore, our struggle is your struggle, our victory will be your victory. And, if we were defeated, it will be your defeat."