Nobody said it was going to be a picnic, and at least they seem to be taking responsibility for their country.
Iraqi Leaders Call for Timetable for U.S. Withdrawal
Say Opposition Has a 'Legitimate Right" of Resistance
By SALAH NASRAWI , AP
CAIRO, Egypt (Nov. 22) - 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.
Nobody said it was going to be a picnic, and at least they seem to be taking responsibility for their country.
1. Don't forget that elections for a permanent government are next month, and the influence that they have on making "promises" and statements that contradict actions (e.g. the Shia called for withdrawal of the occupation prior to the January elections and then immediately backed off these statements and then asked the UN to extend the mandate of US forces in Iraq).
2. The key to ending the insurgency is to bring Sunni into the political fold, and this kind of conference with joint statements furthers the process.
3. While I'm not a fan of the statement that defines and legitimizes resistance, it does provide a wedge to drive between insurgent groups that continue attacks against ISF, as it delegitimizes those actions. If it lessens attacks against the ISF, then they can redeploy to areas where they are needed and will become more effective. If groups continue to attack the ISF, then they are now labeled as out of the mainstream and will lose whatever popular support they may have had.
4. We'll see if the elected government can play both ends of the stick in the future (resistance is legitimate, but we're enacting a timetable and control the level of US forces, so leave the "resistance" to us). Maybe it's a pipe dream, but as the US force size shrinks and our operations are focused more and more against AQ, it's possible that our small presence may become legitimate as we are seen as a backup force to fight only those who are against the Iraqi people. Only time will tell on this one, and I think how much forward progress is made will determine what light the US invasion and presence will be seen with over the long run.
Here's a post from an Iraqi blog where I gathered some of my thoughts from.
Are we going to see a timetable?
Iraqi leaders, politicians and Sunni clerics agreed on asking the US to define a timetable for pulling the troops, this is all over the news websites so I’m not going to add further details here but I’d like to discuss the development with you.
No government in this world acts 100% independently and there are always internal and/or external factors and pressures that affect the decisions of any given government.
That’s why I think that Iraqi officials wouldn’t have agreed to the opposition’s demands if not for pressure from the US administration and I have a strong feeling that the US will announce a timetable for withdrawing the troops soon.
I think the US administration kind of drove the Sunni insurgency leaders to ask for this in a way that allowed the Iraqi and US government the chance to win a good deal of time while they can reach a reasonable progress in building Iraq’s army and police forces.
Everyone wants to see an end for violence but this violence comes from more than one group of fighters; one (al-Qaeda) can be dealt with only by military means but what about the other two? The local Islamic extremists, tribal fighters and former Ba’athists are also tired of fighting and they do want the power they lost (at least some of it) back and they had realized that there’s no way to do that with violence but they kept carrying out attacks as a way to voice their demands and to pressurize the US and Iraqi government to respond positively.
On the other hand, Iraqi and American governments kept saying that putting a timetable for pulling the troops (let alone an immediate step) would empower the terrorists and thus was considered a redline for a long time but now things have changed; Sunni insurgents and the factions that support them are saying that they are going to join the political process and they’re ready to stop targeting Iraqis if a timetable was defined and if their right to “resist” was recognized.
Now, I don’t agree at all with legitimizing attacks on coalition troops but does legitimizing or illegitimating them make a difference in the on the ground situation? They have been attacking the troops for two and a half years and they will keep doing so whether we like or not…BUT, now Iraqi insurgents will not be able to justify or adopt an attack against Iraqi civilians and incase they do so in the future, they and their representatives and supporters will lose their bargaining power because it would be them who violated the agreement, not the government. Add to this that a period of cease-fire among Iraqis can possibly accelerate the reconstruction of the country and its security forces and this will consequently reflect on the size and number of missions required from the foreign troops.
People like clerics in the Association of Muslim scholars now feel triumphant that they could extract recognition of the “resistance” from the government and now they feel they do have a weight in the country’s political situation and are being treated as equals more or less.
The latest change in the US administration’s tone as of this issue makes me think a timetable will see the light soon, a day or two ago, Mr. Rumsfeld said that this is a technical issue and that generals and commanders of US forces are more able to decide whether it is possible to reduce troops count or not. This means that it is not considered a political decision anymore, at least not as was used to be a year ago. On the other hand, Mr. Cheney lately reduced the redline for US involvement in Iraq from timetable to immediate withdrawal and insisted that an immediate action to pull troops would be a grave mistake but he didn’t mention a timetable in an attempt to divert attention from the former redline. (Sorry for not including links, these are yesterday's news stories and I couldn't locate the links tonight).
I could be wrong in my speculations but I think the right time to start negotiating the timetable between the US and Iraq will be after the formation of the new government that is to be elected next month; this government will certainly be a true representative of the people and will have the full authority of a government that will last for 4 years.
If this moves as I’m expecting here, we will deal a powerful blow to foreign terrorism and to dictatorships in the neighborhood that want to destroy Iraq.
Giving everyone the chance to have their say under the law will certainly isolate terrorism and consequently reduce its power but not ending it.
Posted by Omar @ 22:41
"So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3
this about covers it
The more they're willing to talk the less they'll be shooting and the US's responsibility reduces to long term support without active intervention.Giving everyone the chance to have their say under the law will certainly isolate terrorism and consequently reduce its power but not ending it.
Panic Is Not the Solution
Many Democrats are understandably enraged over Iraq. But in responding in equally partisan fashion, they could well precipitate a tragedy.
By Fareed Zakaria
Dec. 5, 2005 issue - The rising clamor in Washington to get out of Iraq may be right or may be wrong, but one thing is certain: its timing has little to do with events in that country. Iraq today is no worse off than it was three months ago, or a year ago. Nor has there been a sudden spike in the numbers of American troops being killed. In fact, in some ways things have improved recently. What's driving this debate, however, are events in America. President Bush's approval rating has plummeted, battered by Iraq but also by Hurricane Katrina. The Democrats, sensing weakness, are trying to draw blood. But the result is a debate that is oddly timed. Iraq is in the midst of full-scale political campaigning and is three weeks from a crucial election, the first in which there will be large-scale Sunni participation. This will also be the first election to yield a government with real—and lasting—powers. (It will have a four-year term, compared with the last two governments, which had six months each.)
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Why and how we got into this war are important questions. And the administration's hands are not clean. But the paramount question right now should not be "What did we do about Iraq three years ago?" It should be "What should we do about Iraq today?" And on this topic, the administration has finally been providing some smart answers. Condoleezza Rice, who is now in control of Iraq policy in a way no one has been, has spearheaded a political-military strategy for Iraq that is sophisticated and workable.
Many Democrats are understandably enraged by an administration that has acted in an unethical, highly partisan and largely incompetent fashion in Iraq. But in responding in equally partisan fashion they could well precipitate a tragedy. Just as our Iraq policy has been getting on a firmer footing, the political dynamic in Washington could move toward a panicked withdrawal.
To oversimplify, after two years of pretending that it was not engaged in nation-building in Iraq, the administration has accepted reality. Instead of simply chasing insurgents or hunkering down in large armed camps, the military is now moving to "clear, hold and build," in Rice's words. If this trend continues, it means that securing the population and improving the lives of people has become the key measure of success in Iraq. This shift is two years late—call it the education of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney—but better now than never.
To understand the change, look at the airport road to Baghdad. For two years, when reporters would ask how it was possible that the mightiest military in history could not secure a five-kilometer stretch of road, the military responded with long, jargon-filled lectures on the inherent weakness of long supply lines and the complex nature of Baghdad's urban topography. Then one day this summer the military was ordered to secure the road and use more troops if necessary. Presto. Using Iraqi forces, the road was secured. Similar strategies have made cities like Najaf, Mosul, Tall Afar and even Fallujah much safer today than they were a year ago.
The next great shift will have to be the protection of infrastructure. It remains mind-boggling that Iraq is producing no more electricity and oil today than under Saddam. The U.S. military does not want to protect power plants and refineries, but success in Iraq requires it. It is not just a "clear and hold" strategy. "Building" will bring much-needed economic activity and growth.
On the political front, the overtures to Sunnis have yielded some results. Last week in Cairo, the Sunnis pushed through a united Iraqi position that included support for the right of resistance. It's purely symbolic. The Sunni leaders I talked to in Baghdad are well aware that if American forces left tomorrow, the insurgents would kill them all. But the outcome bolstered their nationalist credentials and also brought in other Arab states that so far have been sitting on the sidelines. That Washington did not overreact to the hot air coming out of Cairo is a sign of its new maturity.
If Washington's strategy is more aggressively pursued, it could actually be compatible with some American troop withdrawals. For obvious political reasons, it would be far better if the "hold" part of the policy was done by Iraqi forces. And, in fact, this has been happening. Najaf and Mosul are now patrolled entirely by Iraqi Army forces. Even Kirkuk, which is politically sensitive, has fewer American troops in it than it did six months ago. This trend could accelerate, which would mean that three or four brigades could be withdrawn in the next year.
Current talk of a withdrawal, properly done, could actually serve a useful purpose. The most dysfunctional aspect of Iraq right now is its government. The Shia leaders don't agree on much. They refuse to listen to the United States on issues ranging from subsidizing energy (a large part of the reason oil supply is so weak) to making concessions to the Sunnis. If Iraq's leaders begin to realize that they could be on their own, without the United States to blame and without the American Army to protect them, they might have a greater incentive to start making tough decisions.
But for any of this to work, the United States needs to be able to maintain a stable set of policies in Iraq that do not appear to be the product of panic or politics. That alone will yield success, which will allow American troops to return home having achieved something. As has often been pointed out, the key here is not the exit, but the strategy.
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© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.
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