Iraqi Leaders Call for Pullout Timetable
    By Salah Nasrawi
    The Associated Press

    Tuesday 22 November 2005

    Cairo, Egypt - 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.

    The preparatory 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 up first.

    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, D-Pa., called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, and estimated a pullout could be complete within six 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 targeting Iraqi 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 accountable.

    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 opens the 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.


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    Iraqi Leaders Urge a Timetable for Eventual Troop Withdrawal

    Monday 21 November 2005

    Iraqi leaders, meeting at a reconciliation conference in Cairo, urged an end to violence in the country and demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of coalition troops from Iraq.

    In a final statement, read by Arab League chief Amre Moussa, host of the three-day summit, they called for "the withdrawal of foreign troops according to a timetable, through putting in place an immediate national program to rebuild the armed forces." No date was specified.

    "The Iraqi people look forward to the day when the foreign forces leave Iraq, when it's armed and security forces will be rebuilt and when they can enjoy peace and stability and get rid of terrorism," the leaders said in the statement. The session was broadcast live from the Egyptian capital by al-Jazeera.

    The summit was held to prepare for a larger conference scheduled to take place in Baghdad in February. The Arab League is playing an increasing role in attempting to bring Iraq's Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni groups closer together.

    "I consider it a real success," Moussa said at a news conference after the closing session. "I would say we have succeeded in bringing opinions closer by about 70 percent but I will continue to warn against exaggerated expectations."

    "It's a first step, many difficulties and differences remain," Moussa said. 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 U.S., the Associated Press reported.

    Legitimate Right

    The final statement also stated that "resistance is a legitimate right for all people." The conference almost collapsed earlier today when Sunni leaders objected to the definition of "resistance," al-Jazeera said.

    "Terrorism is not legitimate resistance and thus we condemn terrorism and the acts of violence, killings and kidnappings that target Iraqi citizens; civil, governmental and humanitarian organizations; national wealth and houses of worships," the leaders said in the statement.

    Shiite civilians have been frequently targeted by Sunni-led insurgents who seek to foment sectarian tensions in the country, and destabilize Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's government.