Sunni leaders split on how to oust U.S.

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AMMAN, Jordan — Influential political and religious figures within the leadership of Iraq’s minority Sunnis are displaying sharp divisions on how to end what they all agree is an unacceptable U.S. occupation of Iraq.

One emerging perspective proposes a pragmatic partnership with the United States. It foresees an ending to insurgent violence in concert with prisoner releases, promises that U.S. forces will stop raids on homes of suspected insurgents and a rapid reconstruction and development program to bolster the Sunni heartland’s crumbling services and industry.

The other policy — advocated by some politicians who performed well in Thursday’s elections — is to continue the armed resistance, but no longer as a random expression of outrage or to make the country ungovernable. Rather, it would become a tool to pressure the United States into announcing a date for the withdrawal of its troops.

In public statements, newly elected Sunni politicians are beginning a carefully calibrated set of pronouncements that open the way for dialogue with the United States and with the new government, while at the same time sounding belligerent enough to satisfy the “rejectionists.”

Saleh al-Mutlaq, a wealthy businessman and leader of a major Sunni party that appears to have garnered much of the Sunni vote, wasted no time in demanding the American forces to get out now.

But Sunnis understand that troop withdrawals are linked to their own actions in reducing insurgent violence. Behind the bluster, the outlines of a deal are evident.

“Resistance will not stop until there is a U.S. timetable for withdrawal,” said Farid Sabri, representing the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the two main constituents of the Iraqi Accordance Front, which also performed well in the election.

“We need a timetable — a light at the end of the tunnel. And if the resistance stops, they’ll stay forever,” he said.

Speaking on a British Broadcasting Corporation program heard worldwide, he insisted that “fighting — with weapons — is legitimate.”

But he said the tactics should not include suicide bombings, which “we have condemned again and again. Resisting by violence is part of the rights of every single human being.”

The increasingly prevalent view is that the United States is not only part of the problem, but that it can become part of the solution. That perspective was explained by an influential religious sheik, who has in the past been close to dictator Saddam Hussein.

Sheik Abed al-Latif Hemaiym, a religious leader from the largest radical Sunni city, Ramadi, said he was risking his life to speak out.

“The time has come to solve the problem between us and the Americans, and through the minimum cost,” said the soft-spoken sheik.

“To stop the bloodshed of our men and their men — it is already reaching our bedrooms — we must use wisdom and pragmatism.

“There is a historical opportunity to get out of this bloodshed and reach peace. We can reach peace [only] through dialogue,” he said.

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