Reuters & AntiWar.com & Al-Jazeera & New York Times – 2006-12-06 23:37:04
Iraq Government Welcomes Study Group Report
Mariam Karouny and Mussab Al-Khairall / Reuters
BAGHDAD (December 6, 2006) — The Iraqi government welcomed the recommendations made to the US administration by the Iraq Study Group on Wednesday, saying its proposals that Iraqis should take the lead on security were similar to their own.
“The report is in line with the Iraqi government’s view that the security must be transferred to Iraqis and Iraq must assume the lead,” Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told Reuters.
He and other senior officials, along with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, were briefed by video link by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and other members of the Study Group just before they presented their report in Washington.
Maliki met Bush last week and secured a promise of faster training and transfer of responsibility for Iraq’s security forces. The prime minister said on Tuesday he did not expect the recommendations to be at odds with those principles.
Maliki’s office issued a statement saying he was briefed on the report and saw in it three main recommendations: that the national unity government should be supported, that Iraq’s neighbours should be consulted and that U.S. forces should switch from combat to a supportive and training role. Salih said: “We, too, have called for international and regional consensus in supporting Iraq’s transition to stability.”
A spokesman for the main Sunni minority bloc in parliament said he was disappointed the report contained no suggested timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal. “We don’t want to see an immediate withdrawal that would cause chaos but we wanted a timetable for withdrawal,” Saleem al-Jibouri of the Iraqi Accordance Front told Reuters. “We think the issue of addressing Syria and Iran is an admission of their massive interference.”
“We don’t see it as necessary to increase the number of U.S. troops to train Iraqi forces. We just think they need to get more serious about it.”
A prominent lawmaker from the dominant Shi’ite United Alliance bloc, Abbas al-Bayati, said: “The … report portrays an American understanding of the crisis in Iraq. To turn this into policy changes on the ground, the Iraqi government must be given a role to make it succeed.
“The outline for a reduction in the size of troops is a common vision, but we should be more specific and say that as one Iraqi division is formed, one U.S. division can leave.
“I think the report drew a horizon for the departure of U.S. forces and took out one of the long-standing demands we’ve heard — for a timetable.” _
© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.
Iraqi Official Demands Timetable for Withdrawal
Aaron Glantz / Antiwar.com
(July 26, 2005) — The following interview with Iraq’s minister of civil society activities, Ala’a al-Safi, was conducted July 20, 2005, after Iraqi Premier Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s historic visit to Iran. In the interview, al-Safi explains how the Iraqi government is endeavoring to warm relations with its neighbors and push the Bush administration into setting a timeline for U.S. withdrawal. We started by talking about Prime Minister Jaafari’s visit to Iran.
Al-Safi: “One of the good things that this government did is make good relationships with the neighboring countries. A country like Iran – it is very important to build a good relationship with them, especially since we fought a war with them for eight years. That will be good for our security situation and will be good for our economy. We have a lot in common with Iran. We have water issues. We have issues of the immigration between the two countries. We have an interest on our side to make Iran send us oil products after we give them crude oil. That is one of our priorities. And we send oil to their ports from the south of Iraq to Iran – and then distribute it around the world.
“We are also thinking about building trucking roads, and we are thinking about paving more highways between Iraq and Iran. And one of the important things that we dealt with is that Iran will be the provider of food for the food rations of Iraqi people. We are so happy about this visit to Iran and we have so many hopes that go with it. Especially since we made agreements for military training for the Iraqi military in Iran, which is worth around $2 billion.”
What do the Americans think about that? You have this new relationship with Iran. America is describing Iran as a terrorist country.
“The Americans – if they like it or don’t like it – we don’t care. That’s their internal issue. Now we are asking for the Americans to draw a timeline of leaving Iraq, and we will make it a priority too, if they force us to make a bad relationship with our neighbors.”
What’s the latest update about this timeline?
“Yes. Most of the terrorist attacks and the security issues we are facing are just because of the American military, especially in Baghdad. And the main reason that Baghdad is cut into security parts – and the Iraqi security can’t even move from one part of Baghdad to another without getting permission from the American military.
Sometimes this permission, it takes three days to get it, so it will come to be so late after the incident. For example, if the security forces try to move even 10 kilometers, it takes them three days to reach there. So the terrorists will control the area for all three days until the security forces enter, and it will be more difficult for them to control the situation.
The other thing is that all the entrances to Baghdad are controlled by the American military, and they are not doing their job well. All the car bombs are just passing through, and they’re not even checking. Basically, they don’t know the city.”
Did the minister’s council meeting have a part of this discussion for a timeline to ask the Americans to leave?
“The National Assembly voted on that [in June], and 190 voted for the occupation forces to stay and 82 refused to allow the occupation forces to stay.
Then, a part of the National Assembly held a protest in Paradise Square [where Saddam’s statue was toppled], and so now the picture has been changed. Now if there is a new vote, we have 135 people against the occupation. And so the last news is we are asking the Americans to leave – if they say they will leave in 10 years, we will make our table for 10 years. That’s fine. But we need a date.”
Did Prime Minister Jaafari say that himself?
“Yes. That’s what we discussed in the last meeting with the head of the American troops in Iraq. And at least they have to start this withdrawal by leaving the streets of Baghdad and going back to their bases. And we have the big issue that we don’t want to pass a law that gives the Americans the right to detain any Iraqi, and to use Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib for those prisoners, and we found that [previous] Prime Minister Iyad Allawi imposed a law that gave the Americans the right to detain any Iraqi any time they want.
Now we are seriously trying to change this law, so the Americans will not be allowed to detain any Iraqi, and if they want to detain someone, they should ask for permission from the Ministry of Interior or Defense.”
Do you want to add anything?
“Violence in Iraq is going to grow very large because there are many, many internal issues and outside issues, but we are trying to tell the Iraqi people and to tell the world through you that we will pass this someday if they allow us to run our own country.”
What does your ministry think of the petition by Moqtada al-Sadr? He is trying to gather millions of petitions asking the Americans to leave?
“That is typical democracy. That is a civil activity. Al-Sadr’s people are doing nothing against the law. 100 percent, they are using their rights, and that is the idea of democracy and that will support us to tell the Americans to give us a timeline for the occupation.”
Al-Sadr Demands US Withdrawal
Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has urged Iraqi parties which participated in the elections to demand a timetable for US troop withdrawal.
Speaking to Aljazeera on Sunday, al-Sadr said that if a new Iraqi government did not ask foreign forces to leave or set a timetable for their pullout, elections will have been useless.
“If elections open the door for the occupier to leave Iraq then it is a good thing. But if that is not the case, it will not have a real effect on the country or on Iraqis,” he said.
“As long as the occupier is in Iraq, I will not take part in politics, whether in posts or the drafting of the constitution, because the occupier will intervene in one way or another.”
But al-Sadr said all Iraqis should be allowed to participate in the country’s political process, including Sunni Muslims, most of whom rejected the elections that handed power to Iraq’s Shia.
“We must help the minorities to have an effective role in building the future of Iraq. Everyone must be given a chance to participate in building Iraq,” he said.__Al-Sadr also urged Iraqis to refrain from violence against other Iraqis.
“I ask all parties to show patience and not to be dragged into the plots of the West which aim to destabilise the country and justify the presence of the occupation,” Sadr said.
“Any attack on any Iraqi group is an attack on all Iraqis … and it is wrong for a Muslim to kill a Muslim,” he added.
Iraqi Factions Seek Timetable for US Pullout
Hassan M. Fattah / New York Times
CAIRO, (November 21, 2006) — For the first time, Iraq’s political factions on Monday collectively called for a timetable for withdrawal of foreign forces, in a moment of consensus that comes as the Bush administration battles pressure at home to commit itself to a pullout schedule.
The announcement, made at the conclusion of a reconciliation conference here backed by the Arab League, was a public reaching out by Shiites, who now dominate Iraq’s government, to Sunni Arabs on the eve of parliamentary elections that have been put on shaky ground by weeks of sectarian violence.
About 100 Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders, many of whom will run in the election on Dec. 15, signed a closing memorandum on Monday that “demands a withdrawal of foreign troops on a specified timetable, dependent on an immediate national program for rebuilding the security forces,” the statement said.
“The Iraqi people are looking forward to the day when foreign forces will leave Iraq, when its armed and security forces will be rebuilt and when they can enjoy peace and stability and an end to terrorism,” it continued.
The meeting was intended as preparation for a much larger conference in Iraq in late February. The recommendations made here are to be the starting ground for that meeting.
In Washington, Justin Higgins, a State Department spokesman, said, “The United States supports the basic foundation of the conference and we certainly support ongoing discussion among Iraq’s various political and religious communities.”
But regarding troop withdrawal, he said: “Multinational forces are present in Iraq under a mandate from the U.N. Security Council. As President Bush has said, the coalition remains committed to helping the Iraqi people achieve security and stability as they rebuild their country. We will stay as long as it takes to achieve those goals and no longer.”
Shiite leaders have long maintained that a pullout should be done according to milestones, and not before Iraqi security forces are fully operational. The closing statement upheld a Sunni demand for a pullout, while preserving aspects of Shiite demands, but did not specify when a withdrawal should begin, making it more of a symbolic gesture than a concrete agenda item that could be followed up by the Iraqi government.
The statement, while condemning the wave of terrorism that has engulfed Iraq, also broadly acknowledged a general right to resist foreign occupation. That was another effort to compromise with Sunnis who had sought to legitimize the insurgency. The statement condemned terror attacks and religious backing for them, and it demanded the release of innocent prisoners and an investigation into reports of torture.
Almost all the delegates belong to political parties that represent the spectrum of Iraqi politics.
But while Sunni parties hinted at their lines of communication to nationalist and tribal insurgents, none would admit any link to militants like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has led a wave of suicide bombings through his group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
The wording was a partial victory for Iraq’s Sunni politicians, who have long demanded that the United States commit to a scheduled pullout.
While the wording stopped short of condoning armed resistance to the occupation, it broadly acknowledged that “national resistance is a legitimate right of all nations.”
“This is the first time that something like this is said collectively and in public,” Muhammad Bashar al-Faythi, spokesman for the hard-line Sunni Muslim Scholars Council, said Monday, referring to the timetable. “We managed to convince them of the importance of a timed pullout.”
On Monday, Iraq’s interior minister, Bayan Jabr, said American-led forces should be able to leave Iraq by the end of next year, adding that the one-year extension of the mandate for the multinational force in Iraq by the United Nations Security Council earlier this month could be the last, The Associated Press reported.
“By mid-next year, we will be 75 percent done in building our forces, and by the end of next year it will be fully ready,” Mr. Jabr told Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab news channel.
The Monday statement offered Shiite politicians concessions, too, by condemning terrorism against Shiites, condemning trumped-up theological arguments for attacks on Shiites, and legitimizing the political process that has made Shiite leaders the dominant political force in Iraq.
“Some of the sides that were especially sensitive have opened up with the support of the Arab League,” said Sheik Humam Hamoudi, a Shiite who headed the Iraqi constitution-drafting committee. “We now clearly see that Sunnis have entered politics, and this meeting won’t change that.”
“If this meeting did anything, it was to comfort the Arabs and the Iraqi Sunnis about the whole process,” he added. “The solution first is that Sunnis enter politics, then they enter government, then we deliver services to their areas, and then we build a strong government.”
The statement also called for the release of all prisoners who had not been charged or were deemed innocent, and asked Arab League members to cancel Iraq’s debts and assist in building Iraqi security forces.
Perhaps the biggest winner of the meeting was the 22-member Arab League itself, which has entered the political scene in Iraq hoping to repeat its success in 1989, when it brokered an end to Lebanon’s 15-year civil war in a similar conference.
The Arab League’s secretary general, Amr Moussa, said Monday that the results of the meeting were a success, but he warned that expectations should remain modest.
“This is a success for the most part,” he told reporters. “We succeeded in 70 percent of the issues. We will move step by step, but what happened was very significant.”
The Iraqi politicians thrashed out their differences in the most open debate about the country’s future yet. Starting Saturday, they wasted no time expressing their complaints and differences, after more than two years of sectarian violence.
“Even if there is no agreement, we will have accomplished a conversation,” Iraq’s interim president, Jalal Talabani, said Sunday. Mr. Talabani and other senior members of the government refrained from taking a direct part in closed-door sessions of the three-day conference.
The meeting ultimately centered on Iraq’s insurgency and its causes, seeking to goad Sunnis to lay down their weapons and join the political system, while forcing Shiite politicians to acknowledge Sunni grievances. On Sunday, Mr. Talabani said he was willing to meet Iraqi insurgents if they dropped their weapons.
From the start, the meeting was beset by controversy as many, especially Shiites, objected to plans to invite former Baath Party officials to take part. Even the statement’s release was delayed Monday because of last-minute objections by Sunni leaders. But with some diplomacy, which included shuttling from the general assembly to Mr. Moussa’s offices for private talks, a compromise was reached Monday evening.
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