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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

In Cairo, Iraqi Delegates Call for Troop Pullout Schedule

A statement at the end of talks leaves unclear who should decide when the foreign forces should depart. A follow-up meeting is planned.

November 22, 2005|Jailan Zayan | Times Staff Writer

CAIRO — Seeking to quell Iraq's insurgency and sectarian violence, leaders of that nation's Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish political factions ended three days of contentious talks in Egypt on Monday with a call for a timetable for a pullout of foreign troops. But there was no agreement on what the timetable should be.

Shiite Muslims and Kurds, who dominate Iraq's U.S.-backed coalition government, have opposed setting a withdrawal deadline, echoing arguments by the Bush administration that doing so might embolden insurgents and that Iraqi forces must be trained and equipped first. But some Iraqi officials, including President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, have said recently that foreign troops could start leaving in 2006 or 2007.

It was unclear from the delegates' statement who would set the withdrawal timetable. The statement also said the Iraqi armed forces should be trained and armed so they could control the country's borders and "put an end to terrorist operations."

The gathering in Cairo, sponsored by the Arab League as part of an effort to expand its diplomatic role in Iraq, had no specific agenda but turned into an open debate about the insurgency and its causes. The league's secretary-general, Amr Moussa, said the timing of foreign troop withdrawals would be on the agenda of a broader, follow-up gathering in February. He called the initial meeting "a very good start."

Delegates clashed throughout the talks over how their statement should characterize the insurgency, and they settled on a carefully worded compromise.

"Resistance is the legitimate right of all peoples," it said, but "terrorism does not constitute legitimate resistance."

They condemned all acts of violence, killings and kidnappings that target Iraqi civilians and "humanitarian, civil, governmental organizations, national heritage and places of worship."

They also called for the release of all "innocent detainees who have not been sentenced by a court" and an investigation into claims of torture by Iraq's Shiite-led police forces.

The statement also objected to the insurgents' labeling of some Iraqis as "infidels," saying that contradicts the teachings of Islam.

Fawzi Hariri, a Kurdish delegate, said the statement did not recognize the Iraqi resistance as legitimate.

"The political process is the only way to remove the foreign forces in Iraq," he told reporters.

Harith Dhari, a prominent Sunni Muslim delegate, said he had reservations about the communique but believed that it "will contribute to the improvement of the situation."

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