Iraqi Factions Unite to Seek A Timetable for U.S. Pullout
By Hassan M. Fattah
THE NEW YORK TIMES
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 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.”
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. This was another effort to compromise with Sunnis who have sought to legitimize the insurgency. The statement condemned terror attacks and religious backing for it, and it demanded the release of innocent prisoners and an investigation into allegations 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 deadly 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 hardline Sunni Muslim Scholars Council, said on Monday evening, 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 that American-led forces should be able to leave Iraq by the end of next year, noting that the one-year extension of the mandate for the multinational force in Iraq by the U.N. Security Council earlier this month could be the last, The Associated Press reported.