- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2006

BAGHDAD — Eleven Sunni insurgent groups have offered an immediate halt to all attacks — including those on American troops — if the United States agrees to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq in two years, insurgent and government officials said yesterday.

“If they set a two-year timetable for the withdrawal, we will stop all our operations immediately,” an insurgent leader, who refused to give his name for security reasons, said in a telephone interview.

Also yesterday, National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie said a key al Qaeda suspect wanted in the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine — a Tunisian identified as Yousri Fakher Mohammed Ali — was captured.

However, he said Haitham Sabah Shaker Mohammed al-Badri, the Iraqi mastermind of the Feb. 22 attack in Samarra that destroyed the shrine’s golden dome and pushed the country to the brink of civil war, is still at large.

Troop withdrawal is the centerpiece of a set of demands from the insurgent groups, which operate north of Baghdad in the heavily Sunni Arab provinces of Salahuddin and Diyala.

The groups that have made contact have largely shunned attacks on Iraqi civilians, focusing instead on the U.S.-led coalition forces. Their offer coincides with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s decision to reach out to the Sunni insurgency with a reconciliation plan that includes an amnesty for fighters. The offer of amnesty would not absolve those who have killed Iraqis or American coalition troops.

In a sign of the electronic age, Mr. al-Maliki has set up an e-mail account to communicate with insurgents. The address was flashed Sunday night on state-run al-Iraqiya television and advertised as an address to which insurgents could write and be assured confidentiality.

The Islamic Army in Iraq, Muhammad Army and the Mujahedeen Shura Council — the umbrella group that covers eight militant groups including al Qaeda in Iraq — were not party to any offers to the government.

Mr. al-Maliki, in televised remarks yesterday, did not issue an outright rejection of the timetable demand. But he said it was unrealistic because he could not be certain when the Iraqi army and police would be strong enough to make a foreign presence unnecessary for Iraq’s security.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said President Bush’s “view has been and remains that a timetable is not something that is useful. It is a signal to the enemies that all you have to do is just wait, and it’s yours.

“The goal is not to trade something off for something else to make somebody happy, the goal is to succeed,” he said.

Eight of the 11 insurgent groups banded together to approach Mr. al-Maliki’s government under “the 1920 Revolution Brigade,” which has taken responsibility for killing U.S. troops in the past. The name refers to Iraqis’ struggle against British colonialism.

There are thought to be about two dozen insurgent organizations in Iraq.

In addition to the withdrawal timetable, the Iraqi insurgents have demanded:

• An end to U.S. and Iraqi military operations against insurgent forces.

• The release of insurgent detainees.

• Compensation for Iraqis killed and property damaged in military actions.

• An end to the ban on army officers from Saddam’s regime in the military, and an end to the government ban on former members of the Ba’ath Party.

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