Sunday, December 18, 2005

AMMAN, Jordan — Key Sunni Muslim leaders in Iraq’s violent Anbar province have concluded that their interests lie in cooperating with the United States, and they are seeking to extend a temporary truce honored by most insurgent groups for last week’s elections.

But at the same time, they are demanding specific steps by the U.S. military, including a reduction in military raids and an increase in development projects for their vast desert province that stretches from the edge of Baghdad to the Syrian and Jordanian borders.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, leader of a prominent Sunni bloc, confirmed yesterday that insurgent groups had prevented violence from interfering with Thursday’s election for a 275-seat parliament.

His comments yesterday on a cease-fire deal — first reported in The Washington Times on the day Iraqis voted — provided the first public explanation for the sharp drop in violence last week.

“The resistance announced it would protect polling stations and would not allow a single group to attack them, and it respected its promise.

“We thank them in the name of the Iraqi Accordance Front,” Mr. al-Dulaimi told reporters in Baghdad, referring to the electoral bloc he leads.

The truce resulted from weeks of negotiations between U.S. officials and insurgents that have been recently labeled by President Bush as “rejectionists.”

Mr. Bush also referred to other insurgent troops as “terrorists” and “Saddamists,” with whom U.S. officials in Baghdad say they will not meet.

A prominent Sunni religious leader in Anbar province, Sheik Abed al-Latif Hemaiym, told The Times in an interview in Amman that Sunnis were prepared to work with the Americans.

“We now believe we must get on good terms with the Americans,” Sheik Hemaiym said. “As Arab Sunnis, we believe that within this hot area of Iraq, facing challenges from neighboring nations who want to swallow us, especially the Iranians, we feel we have no alternative.”

The willingness of U.S. officials to talk directly with many, if not most, insurgents marked a huge change from American thinking at the onset of the war.

At the time, U.S. military planners anticipated a long-term military relationship with Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, with the possibility of Iraq hosting American forces permanently.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday said “the time is coming” for U.S. forces to leave Iraq, but she has declined to give a deadline.

“For a proud people like the Iraqis, nobody wants to have foreign forces on your soil,” Miss Rice said in an interview with the Associated Press.

“They want to take responsibility for their own future. I think that’s a healthy thing,” she said.

Despite the truce, a number of small attacks occurred before, during and after the election. But the week was notable for the absence of any spectacular bombings.

Al Qaeda was never part of the truce, and yesterday it reportedly threatened to continue its campaign of terrorism.

“We say to our [Sunni] brothers: do not be fooled by what you have heard of the propaganda from the crusaders and their footmen,” said an Internet statement from Al Qaeda in Iraq.

“The coming days will show you the fate of this ‘democratic marriage’ and the marriage of prostitution that it celebrated,” said the statement on a frequently used terrorist Web site.

The group, led by Jordanian Abu Musab Zarqawi, also said it did not halt attacks during last week.

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