- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Some insurgents are contacting the U.S. military and the Iraqi transition government about giving up the fight in light of the Jan. 30 elections, the Pentagon said yesterday.

Larry Di Rita, chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said the American military command is not directly involved in negotiations. He portrayed the process as Iraqis talking to Iraqis, in consultation with the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

“Since the elections, obviously, a lot of Iraqis who have been opposing this transition to self-government in Iraq are, I would guess, rethinking their situation,” Mr. Di Rita told a Pentagon press conference.

He said he knew of no insurgent leaders offering to surrender and did not supply an estimate of how many might be willing to give up.

The insurgency, which outside analysts say numbers at least 10,000, is mostly made up of Sunni Muslims who dominated the majority Shi’ite population and the country for 30 years under Saddam Hussein despite being only 20 percent of the population. In the Jan. 30 elections, Shi’ite parties and alliances won an overwhelming majority in the 275-seat national assembly.

Mr. Rumsfeld has refused to publicly provide the intelligence community’s estimate of total insurgents, saying the assessment is classified.

“It’s Iraqis, Iraqi government, that will decide the terms on which any of this happens,” Mr. Di Rita said. “Negotiations aren’t for the United States to conduct, and to my knowledge we’re not conducting negotiations. People come forward all the time and talk to commanders, talk to individuals.”

He said the Iraqi government “has itself been doing its own analysis of who might be willing to end the fight and who is worth having those kind discussions with. … It’s going to be Iraqis who determine what happens to other Iraqis who have been opposing the Iraqi government.”

The Pentagon says the number of daily attacks ” which range from 40 to 70 a day depending on how the statistic is tabulated ” has dipped slightly since the Jan. 30 elections.

Besides the fighters themselves, another major problem is the amount of arms and ammunition stored throughout the country.

Gen. Richard Myers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, last week told the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense that troops have discovered more than 10,000 arms caches so far.

“Just yesterday they found over 2,000 pounds of explosives in one cache,” he testified. “That’s a big deal.” The insurgents’ main weapon is the improvised explosive device hidden in vehicles, along roads or in the clothing of a suicide bomber.

In a positive development, he said, the price for ammunition is going up on the black market. “Supply is getting tighter,” he said.

Added Mr. Rumsfeld, “There isn’t a day that goes by that they don’t find a cache of just hundreds of thousands of rounds and hundreds of things ” rocket-propelled grenades and mortars and all kinds of things. The country is just a mountain of weapons.”

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