JIM LEHRER: Now to our Newsmaker interview with Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi. I spoke to him earlier this evening from his Washington hotel.
Mr. Prime Minister, welcome.
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: First, the hostage situation in Iraq; the terrorists have already beheaded two Americans and are still threatening tonight to kill a British man if some women prisoners are not released. Are those demands going to be met?
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: We don't discuss; we don't negotiate with terrorists. This is the attitude which we have adopted since the beginning. Of course, we are very sad to what has happened and this is really a very barbaric and unbelievable act of murder. Our heart goes for the families of the people who were killed. It is very unfortunate. The Iraqi government is doing its best to cooperate and to find a way out but definitely there are no negotiations with terrorists.
JIM LEHRER: Are the reports true that your government as well as the U.S. military authorities were preparing to release these women anyhow, is that correct?
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: No. We had been - we had a joint committee formed a while back between the Iraqi and the multinational forces to look at the detainees. There are some names that - three names, I think - as I can remember - including one of the ladies. But this is premature; there is no release as yet. There are lots of other criteria that need to be met, and then finally I have to make the decision, but this is still we are way, way - there is a long way in front of us.
JIM LEHRER: All right. You have not made that decision yet?
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: No.
JIM LEHRER: Alright. Why can't the people who are doing these kidnappings and beheadings, why can't they be found?
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: Well, we are finding some of them, some of them we are not. Unfortunately, there are the lawless ordinary criminals who are doing a lot of these kidnappings. They are doing it for money on behalf of terrorists and insurgents. We have apprehended some of them about a week ago in an area called the Haifa Street area, but unfortunately in this case we were not successful.
As we build our forces, our police, and our intelligence, and our police, specialized police capabilities, we definitely will be able to do so, but for the time being it's still a bit difficult, although we are trying our best to do what is possible.
JIM LEHRER: Do you know who is behind these kidnappings and beheadings?
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: It's the radical organizations, which is known as al-Qaida, as Ansar Islam - Jund-ul-Islam - this group - including of course al-Zarqawi.
JIM LEHRER: But you can't - you haven't been able to penetrate them; you haven't been able to find them and stop them?
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: Well, we have been successful in certain areas; in other areas we haven't been successful yet. As you know, Bin Laden, himself, and ... others are still free; nobody knows where they are, so this is the case really we'll keep on trying until I'm certain that ultimately we'll get them and bring them to justice.
JIM LEHRER: Did your appearance before Congress today in your meeting with President Bush meet your expectations?
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: Very much so, yes. We are very appreciative of what the United States has done for Iraq during liberation and after liberation, and we are very appreciative for the support we are getting from the United States and other partners in the world.
JIM LEHRER: Both you and President Bush were criticized today by John Kerry, Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, for painting an inaccurate picture of what's going on in Iraq that was too rosy, that didn't gel with the reality on the ground. How do you respond to that?
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: Well, I don't know what is rosy and what is not rosy. I am painting a picture that I know; I am the prime minister of Iraq, and I am talking about Iraq-I know what is happening there. I know the details; I am involved in - I have only been out of Iraq for five days so I don't think that in the last five days things have changed dramatically.
I know, as I have been saying all along in the last two, three days, that out of the eighteen provinces in Iraq fourteen to fifteen of them are safe and good, as good as they can be. There are areas which are still turbulent pockets really, so I don't know what people are talking, in the media, I don't know what they are talking about. You know, I haven't had any positive talking about Najaf, about Basra, about Uani, about Sumawa, about Samarra.
I only hear the story of Fallujah, and Fallujah does not represent the whole of Iraq. It's a tiny village -- city, and the province of Umbara -- the rest of Umbara is very good, is very quiet and very positive. So really I don't know what and I really don't want to be dragged into the problems of the internal politics; we are interested in the support of the United States for us, the Congress for us, and the American government for us, to Iraq. This we feel is very vital.
JIM LEHRER: Well, the words that Senator Kerry has used to describe the situation is "chaos" and "a mess." He said the situation is a mess in Iraq and it's chaos there and it's getting worse every day. Do you disagree with that?
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: Well, you know, I don't know from where he derives his information but we welcome any friend who would support us to transfer this chaos into something more logical and more structured. It is really not a place to criticize - we are fighting a very vicious war in Iraq. The terrorists are adamant to kill us; they have been inflicting a lot of damage on life in Iraq, both Iraqis and partners in the coalition, and the multinational force; they have been hitting the infrastructure, and really anybody who could help in shifting things and helping are welcome to do so.
I don't think it is time really to pick on Iraq and the plight of the Iraqi people. We are moving in the - in the right speed toward democracy, towards the rule of law, towards respect of human rights, and this I think should have the support of all people who believe in the same values. We all have done nothing wrong in Iraq; we are trying to fight terrorism; we are trying to fight terrorism in behalf of the world, of the civilizations, a course of law. We are suffering a lot of losses, so are our friends, including the United States; this is all being done for a very good cause, for the cause of humanity - all over.
JIM LEHRER: What would you say to somebody in the United States who questions whether or not getting rid of Saddam Hussein was worth the cost of more than a thousand lives now and billions and billions of U.S. dollars?
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: Well, I assure you if Saddam was still there, terrorists will be hitting there again at Washington and New York, as they did in the murderous attack in September; they'll be hitting also on other places in Europe and the Middle East.
I have been outside Iraq; I have been listening to a lot of atrocities that have been committed by Saddam's regime and his liaison with terrorist organizations when I went to Iraq and saw what atrocities had been committed was really nothing compared to what we had - so far we have found 262 mass graves; and we are still finding new mass graves.
Saddam had used chemical warfare to kill his people; they have used weapons against, chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction against Iran, against his neighbors, Saddam had alienated himself with the terrorist organizations and he brought them to Iraq even prior to the war of liberation to kill. The war against Saddam was very just; it was a courageous decision. I salute the government of the United States and the Congress of the United States who have taken these courageous and brave decisions, so I do salute the rest of the civilized countries who helped us in getting results from them.
JIM LEHRER: How many Iraqis have died since the U.S. military operation began?
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: The figures we have so far, this is the ministry of health figures... in the last five months, this is taking into account the most recent ones, deaths, three-thousand-six hundred and something, I can't remember the fractions over six hundred. Civilians have been killed by terrorist attacks in the last five months by terrorists, and more than twelve thousand injured now.
Of course some of those who have been injured probably have lost their lives, so it is a deadly war; they are trying to stop the life in Iraq; they are trying to stop the progress in Iraq; and in order to not only hurt Iraq but to undermine the whole region of the Middle East and to go beyond and to help out civilization and civilizations in the world.
JIM LEHRER: You've said several times since you've been in the United States, a couple of times today, you told the Congress that these elections that are planned for January are going to come off no matter what. Can they come off if this level of violence continues up till then?
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: Well, this level of violence really is where the media are focusing on and there are a lot of areas in Iraq, the majority of areas are free of such violence.
We just, in August, concluded a national conference, they elected --1,400 people assembled from all over the country and they elected a 100-member council. This is a preparation for the forthcoming election in January -- people also then doubted that this conference was going to be held, but yet we were able to hold it and in fact it lasted for four days, and it came up with very positive results. I am sure that we will be able to conduct the elections in January next.
JIM LEHRER: You just said it now about the press, the media and the United States; you said that the media is giving oxygen to the terrorists. What do you mean by that?
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: Well, I mean by that focusing on the negative aspects and talking about the negative aspects only and the media is really in a way an encouragement to the terrorists; it's very simple. We know that - I know - I come from Iraq; I am the prime minister of Iraq; I know there are problems in Iraq. I know security is not safe 100 percent; I know there are enormous problems in various parts of the country.
But I know as well that a lot of good things are happening. I know a lot of successes have been achieved. And Najaf and Talafa and Samarra and Basra and Diwaniya, and Karbala, a lot of successes; I can't read on these successes in the press; these are successes not only for Iraq but successes against terror, against terrorism -- who have been trying to undermine not only Iraq but rather the whole world.
JIM LEHRER: So you're not -
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: And that's why I say it is unfortunately some media when they focus only on the bad events, they give oxygen to terrorists -- this is unfortunate; we should all close ranks; we should all work together; we should all send the same message that things will be steadfast against terrorists until they all go to justice and until the world is a much safer place.
JIM LEHRER: Just for the record, Mr. Prime Minister, you're not suggesting that the media not report the bad things, are you?
PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: No. No. I am suggesting that there are focuses on the negative aspects. I haven't said what kind of a conference has been held in Baghdad in August and how the various Iraqis who came from different backgrounds, religious, ethnic and so on - women and men - from all over Iraq came to participate in a democratic practice to prepare for the next phase, which is the forthcoming elections in January.
This is something positive; this is something that the Iraqis and the friends of Iraq have lost lives to achieve a level of unacceptable democracy moving forward towards a full election in Iraq; this is something very positive. I haven't read a lot in the press about this. You know, when I read and people read that, you know, there are suicidal bombers and there are problems in Fallujah and Fallujah and Fallujah, this is fine; this is happening.
But this is - don't forget - this is a war; this is a big war. People are coming to Iraq from as far as China, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan.Terrorists, they are trying to kill; they are trying to commit murders; and they are doing so.
So what is happening in Iraq really is a global phenomenon; it's not only to Iraq. That's why I would like to see in the media a fair assessment of what's happening and a realistic assessment of what's happening.
JIM LEHRER: Alright, sir. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much.