Bush urges UN to 'save civilisation' by backing Iraqi polls

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The Independent US

George Bush challenged the world yesterday to help rebuild "democracy and freedom" in Iraq as he sought to portray the challenge to the American-backed Iraqi government as part of his broader war against terrorists bent on destroying civilised society.

George Bush challenged the world yesterday to help rebuild "democracy and freedom" in Iraq as he sought to portray the challenge to the American-backed Iraqi government as part of his broader war against terrorists bent on destroying civilised society.

"All civilised nations are in this struggle together, and all must fight the murderers," he said, as he dwelt on the Beslan school hostage-taking, before citing the Madrid train bombs and attacks in Jerusalem, Istanbul and Baghdad as potent reasons for collective action.

President Bush, addressing the United Nations one month before elections in Afghanistan and four months before scheduled polls in Iraq that Iyad Allawi, the Prime Minister, has pledged to carry out on schedule, spoke of both countries in the same breath throughout his speech. He said: "As members of the UN, we all have a stake in the success of the world's newest democracies."

Speaking amid the tightest security seen at the UN, he urged it to "respond to Mr Allawi's request, and do more to help build an Iraq that is secure, democratic, federal and free". However, his 20-minute speech, which produced a round of polite applause, is unlikely to produce fresh offers of troops from UN members whose citizens have been beheaded or otherwise killed by Iraqi insurgents in the terrifying recent surge of violence.

Mr Bush, his eyes fixed on the presidential election in two months' time, glossed over Monday's beheading of the American engineer Eugene Armstrong. His description of the situation in Iraq was in stark contrast to that of Senator John Kerry, his Democratic challenger, who issued a harsh criticism of Mr Bush's Iraq policy in a speech in New York on Monday.

Mr Bush adopted a resolutely optimistic tone, portraying the "difficulties" in Iraq as part of the irrevocable march towards freedom and democracy. "These difficulties will not shake our conviction that the future of Afghanistan and Iraq is a future of liberty. The proper response to difficulty is not to retreat - it is to prevail."

He also persisted with the view that "outlaw regimes in Baghdad and Kabul threaten the peace and sponsored terrorists", contradicting the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission that there was no evidence Saddam Hussein's regime had a connection with al-Qa'ida.

Mr Bush made no mention of the rift in the Security Council that led to the US and Britain taking pre-emptive action to remove Saddam after the collapse of negotiations on a second resolution in March last year. Instead, he focused on the first UN resolution, which had warned Saddam of "serious consequences". "And so, a coalition of nations enforced the just demands of the world," he said.

Mr Bush adopted a more conciliatory tone towards the leaders of the 191 states present in the UN General Assembly hall, compared with his speech two years ago when he told the world body it was threatened with irrelevance for failing to implement its own resolutions against Saddam.

He went out of his way to seem at ease with Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, greeting him with "Hey! Kofi!" as he put his arm around Mr Annan's shoulder. Their meeting came days after Mr Annan declared on the BBC that the Iraq war was illegal.

Mr Annan rekindled the row yesterday in a hard-hitting speech focusing on the importance of the rule of law. Although he did not refer directly to the US, his message was clear: "Those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it; and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it."

Both Mr Bush and Mr Annan addressed the unrest in Darfur, and urged the Sudanese government to end the harassment of black Africans that has left 1.2 million people homeless.

President Bush also announced the creation of a Democracy Fund at the UN, saying that Washington would help set up the fund.

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