Iraqi Leaders Call for Pullout Timetable
By SALAH NASRAWI, Associated Press Writer
Reaching out to the Sunni
Arab community, Iraqi leaders called for a timetable for the withdrawal
of U.S.-led forces and said Iraq's opposition had a "legitimate right" of resistance.
The communique — finalized by
Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni leaders Monday — condemned
terrorism but was a clear acknowledgment of the Sunni position that insurgents should not be labeled as terrorists if their operations do not target innocent civilians or institutions designed
to provide for the welfare of Iraqi citizens.
The leaders agreed on
"calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops according to a timetable,
through putting in place an immediate national program to rebuild the armed forces ... control
the borders and the security situation" and end terror attacks.
reconciliation conference, held under the auspices of the Arab League, was
attended by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish
lawmakers as well as
leading Sunni politicians.
Sunni leaders have been
pressing the Shiite-majority government to agree to a timetable for the
withdrawal of all foreign troops. The statement recognized that goal, but did
not lay down a
specific time — reflecting instead the government's stance that Iraqi security forces must be built
On Monday, Iraqi Interior
Minister Bayan Jabr suggested U.S.-led forces should be able to leave
Iraq by the end of next year, saying the one-year extension of the mandate for the multinational
force in Iraq by the U.N. Security Council this month could be the last.
"By the middle of next year
we will be 75 percent done in building our forces and by the end of
next year it will be fully ready," he told the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera.
Debate in Washington over
when to bring troops home turned bitter last week after decorated Vietnam War
vet Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record), D-Pa., called for an immediate
withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, and estimated a pullout could be complete
months. Republicans rejected Murtha's position.
In Egypt, the final
communique's attempt to define terrorism omitted any reference to attacks
against U.S. or Iraqi forces. Delegates from across the political and religious spectrum said
the omission was intentional. They spoke anonymously, saying they feared retribution.
"Though resistance is a
legitimate right for all people, terrorism does not represent resistance.
Therefore, we condemn terrorism and acts of violence, killing and kidnapping
citizens and humanitarian, civil, government institutions, national resources and houses of worships," the document said.
The final communique also
stressed participants' commitment to Iraq's unity and called for
the release of all "innocent detainees" who have not been convicted by courts. It asked that
allegations of torture against prisoners be investigated and those responsible be held
The statement also demanded "an immediate end to arbitrary raids and arrests without a documented judicial order."
The communique included no
means for implementing its provisions, leaving it unclear what it
will mean in reality other than to stand as a symbol of a first step toward bringing the feuding
parties together in an agreement in principle.
"We are committed to this
statement as far as it is in the best interests of the Iraqi people," said
Harith al-Dhari, leader of the powerful Association of Muslim Scholars, a
hard-line Sunni group.
He said he had reservations about the document as a whole, and delegates said he had again expressed strong opposition to the concept of federalism enshrined in Iraq's new constitution.
The gathering was part of a U.S.-backed league attempt to bring the communities closer together and assure Sunni Arab participation in a political process now dominated by Iraq's Shiite majority and large Kurdish minority.
The conference also decided
on broad conditions for selecting delegates to a wider reconciliation gathering
in the last week of February or the first week of March in Iraq. It essentially
way for all those who are willing to renounce violence against fellow Iraqis.
Shiites had been strongly opposed to participation in the conference by Sunni Arab officials from the former Saddam regime or from pro-insurgency groups. That objection seemed to have been glossed over in the communique.
The Cairo meeting was marred
by differences between participants at times, and at one point
Shiite and Kurdish delegates stormed out of a closed session when one of the speakers said
they had sold out to the Americans.