- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

BAGHDAD — Two prominent Sunni hard-liners laid out conditions yesterday for an end to Iraq’s insurgency, including a clear date for the withdrawal of U.S. and British troops and a restoration of the old Iraqi army.

But they warned of greater conflict if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s choice for defense minister was not satisfactory to disaffected Sunnis.

Fakhri al-Khaisy, who speaks for the Salafi sect of fundamentalist Muslims in Baghdad, and Abdul Kareem al-Zobai, a leading member of the Muslim Scholars Association, also threatened to “remove” any Sunnis cooperating with the new Shi’ite-led government if an unsatisfactory defense minister is chosen.

Mr. al-Maliki said during a press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday that Iraqi forces would start taking over large portions of the country from coalition troops by the end of the year — opening the way for major reductions in U.S. troop levels.

“There is an agreement for the transfer of security under a timetable which starts in June, when Iraqi forces will take control of the provinces of Samawa and Amara,” Mr. al-Maliki was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

“The other provinces will be transferred gradually, and by the end of this year most of them will [be under Iraqi control], with the exception of Baghdad and perhaps Anbar,” he said. The two provinces are at the heart of the insurgency and sectarian killings.

U.S. and British forces have said that the withdrawal of the roughly 135,000 coalition troops in Iraq is contingent on the establishment of an effective government and security force in the country.

Mr. Blair, who was in Baghdad on a surprise visit to show support for the two-day-old government, said that the “Iraqi people are about to take charge of their own destiny. … There is now no excuse for people to carry on with terrorism and bloodshed.”

But Mr. al-Khaisy, who is thought to have ties with Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, and Mr. al-Zobai, whose tribe forms part of the insurgency in western Iraq, told The Washington Times that the Sunnis were ready to “struggle to the end.”

“We believe the Sunni people will reject this new government and will turn their hatred toward those Sunnis in the government, like Tariq al-Hashimi and the Islamic Party,” Mr. al-Zobai said.

The sister of Mr. al-Hashimi, a Sunni vice president and Islamic Party leader who decided to join the political process, was fatally shot in the streets of Baghdad last month.

“And there will be big problems if the Sunnis lose the Ministry of Defense,” said Mr. al-Zobai, adding that the government should appoint a Sunni who would be accepted by the insurgency, such as Khalaf al-Elayan, a member of the Sunni National Dialogue Council.

Mr. al-Khaisy, sporting a full Salafi beard and dressed in black, outlined what he said were the Sunni demands to end the insurgency — a firm schedule for the withdrawal of coalition troops, a larger role for Sunnis in the government, and the recall of the army as it existed under Saddam Hussein. That army dissolved after the U.S. invasion, and a decision was made not to call it back to barracks by L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator at the time.

Otherwise, Mr. al-Khaisy said, “we will support the resistance, and we will try to remove this temporary Sunni leadership [in the government] by any way.”

“The Sunni people will struggle to take back their rights. They consider themselves neglected, so they will struggle to the end,” he said.


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