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Iraq Leader Defends US Troop Presence

Iraq's new prime minister defended the continued presence of U.S.-led troops in the country, telling Iraqis in his first nationally televised address Friday that the forces' withdrawal would be a "major disaster."

Iyad Allawi, appointed last week to head the interim government that takes sovereignty on June 20, also said the new president, Ghazi al-Yawer, will attend the Group of Eight summit being hosted by President Bush in Sea Island, Ga. next week.

At the summit, "your government will contribute to the defeat of economic terrorism that criminals are trying to inflict on our beloved Iraq," he said.

The address, aired on the U.S.-funded station Al-Iraqiyah, was the first national address by Allawi, a former exile leader who had close ties to the CIA and State Department but who is not widely known in Iraq.

He called for an end to insurgent attacks and said the 138,000 U.S. troops and thousands of forces from other nations in Iraq are still needed.

"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 the blood of their sons as a result of terror attacks designed to force them to leave Iraq," he said in the address, which was also carried on the Arab satellite stations Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah.

Plans to keep international troops in Iraq even after the handover of sovereignty have caused resentment among some Iraqis after more than a year of U.S. occupation.

He 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 was named to head the 33-member government in part because he was seen as strong on security. He stressed that ending violence was the paramount challenge facing the new government.

"Your government sees that only the restoration of security and the safeguarding of the citizens' dignity, honor and money will allow us to successfully proceed on the political track and achieve the transfer of full sovereignty," he said. "It also will guarantee the realization of the constitutional electoral process."

Iraq is due to hold elections by Jan. 31 to create a national assembly that will choose a new government.

Allawi also 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, 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.

(China Daily via agencies, June 4, 2004)

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