WASHINGTON -- Elections will take place throughout Iraq in January with no exceptions, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Secretary of State Colin Powell said yesterday, contradicting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's suggestion that the first democratic poll may not be held in some regions controlled by insurgents.
"We will have the elections. All Iraq is eligible to be part of the elections, will be part of the elections. The elections should take place in all the country," Allawi said yesterday in an interview.
Powell, in New York for UN meetings, said there is "no reason" to believe Iraq should not hold a "full, free, and fair election" for a 275-member national assembly by the end of next January, a position echoed by Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage in testimony on Capitol Hill. On Thursday, Rumsfeld told a congressional committee that if violence in Iraq prevented polling in some parts of the country, "Well, so be it."
Powell told The New York Times that the Bush administration was pressing the major Western democracies and several Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, to join with the United States in holding an international conference next month to discuss Iraq's electoral process.
The open disagreement between US officials over Iraq's election planning came on a day when Allawi appealed to the international community to honor its commitments to help his country complete the transition to democracy. "We need more assistance from our neighbors and the international community as a whole in order to meet all the objectives and translate the aspirations of the Iraqi people into . . . realities," Allawi told the UN General Assembly.
Because of the deadly insurgency, the interim Iraqi leader called for UN members to send more troops to fight terrorism, which he called "a disease spreading all over the world." He also asked UN members to help create a security force to protect the UN election commission that is helping prepare for Iraq's first free vote.
Citing concerns about violence, the United Nations has deployed only about a third of the personnel Iraq has sought, US officials say. After months of resistance by every country approached, Georgia and Fiji indicated this week that they will provide several hundred forces, but Iraq and the United States are still hoping for more.
"Let me state before the members of the international community today, whether they supported or opposed the war: Do not be neutral in the struggle. Do not remain idle, but join us, for our own sake and for your own sake," said Allawi, a neurologist, who took over three months ago from the US-led occupation government. "If we are defeated, it is your defeat."
The public differences over the scope of Iraq's elections fueled new tensions between the State Department and the Pentagon yesterday, with some US officials charging that Rumsfeld does not understand how the Iraqi election is going to be held -- and should not have speculated that elections could not be held in the entire country.
"He doesn't get it. With this kind of election, you can't carve out part of the country. The whole country is voting as a single district, so you can't hold elections in some parts later. There's no way of fixing it later. You'd have to throw out the whole election to fix it," said a senior US official familiar with election plans. "Our mantra is: It ain't gonna be pretty, but we're going to have an election."
The disagreement led Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards to charge the administration was engaged in flip-flopping on its Iraq policy. "For a president who is fond of saying we should not send mixed messages -- you need a scorecard today to keep up with all the different and contradictory statements from the White House," Edwards said in a statement released by the campaign.
Yesterday's speech at the United Nations capped a week in which Allawi addressed Congress and held talks with President Bush and others, a US debut that played well in Washington among Republicans but also among Democrats who are critical of US policy.
Senator Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware, said he was "impressed by Allawi's political sophistication" as well as his nerve and candor in acknowledging privately the challenges ahead. "He's in a tough spot, but he was credible," Biden said.
Representative James Moran, Democrat of Virginia, called Allawi "as good an instrument of stability as we could come up with."
But in New York yesterday, some UN diplomats said Allawi's visit did little to change pessimistic views of the prospects for successful elections in Iraq in January. "A lot of people are very worried about the situation in Iraq, the level of violence, the question of how easily or credibly you can organize elections which will really make a difference," said Edward Mortimer, a senior adviser to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. "The important thing is to have elections which are generally accepted."
Other UN officials feared elections may be boycotted by key Iraqis, primarily the country's Sunni leaders and insurgents.