Iraqis to U.S.: Go home

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,2129675,00.html

Insurgents form political front to plan for US pullout
Leaders of Iraqi groups say attacks will go on until Americans leave

Seumas Milne in Damascus
Thursday July 19, 2007
Guardian

Seven of the most important Sunni-led insurgent organisations
fighting the US occupation in Iraq have agreed to form a public
political alliance with the aim of preparing for negotiations in
advance of an American withdrawal, their leaders have told the
Guardian.

In their first interview with the western media since the US-British
invasion of 2003, leaders of three of the insurgent groups –
responsible for thousands of attacks against US and Iraqi armed
forces and police – said they would continue their armed resistance
until all foreign troops were withdrawn from Iraq, and denounced
al-Qaida for sectarian killings and suicide bombings against
civilians.

Speaking in Damascus, the spokesmen for the three groups – the 1920
Revolution Brigades, Ansar al-Sunna and Iraqi Hamas – said they
planned to hold a congress to launch a united front and appealed to
Arab governments, other governments and the UN to help them establish
a permanent political presence outside Iraq.

Abu Ahmad, spokesman for Iraqi Hamas said: “Peaceful resistance will
not end the occupation. The US made clear it intended to stay for
many decades. Now it is a common view in the resistance that they
will start to withdraw within a year. ”

The move represents a dramatic change of strategy for the mainstream
Iraqi insurgency, whose leadership has remained shadowy and has
largely restricted communication with the world to brief statements
on the internet and Arabic media.

The last three months have been the bloodiest for US forces, with 331
deaths and 2,029 wounded, as the 28,000-strong “surge” in troop
numbers exposes them to more attacks.

Leaders of the three groups, who did not use their real names in the
interview, said the new front, which brings together the main
Sunni-based armed organisations except al-Qaida and the Ba’athists,
had agreed the main planks of a joint political programme, including
a commitment to free Iraq from foreign troops, rejection of
cooperation with parties involved in political institutions set up
under the occupation and a declaration that decisions and agreements
made by the US occupation and Iraqi government are null and void.

The aim of the alliance – which includes a range of Islamist and
nationalist-leaning groups and is planned to be called the Political
Office for the Iraqi Resistance – is to link up with other
anti-occupation groups in Iraq to negotiate with the Americans in
anticipation of an early US withdrawal. The programme envisages a
temporary technocratic government to run the country during a
transition period until free elections can be held.

The insurgent groups deny support from any foreign government,
including Syria, but claim they have been offered and rejected
funding and arms from Iran. They say they have been under pressure
from Saudi Arabia and Turkey to unite. “We are the only resistance
movement in modern history which has received no help or support from
any other country,” Abdallah Suleiman Omary, head of the political
department of the 1920 Revolution Brigades, told the Guardian. “The
reason is we are fighting America.”

All three Sunni-based resistance leaders say they are acutely aware
of the threat posed by sectarian division to the future of Iraq and
emphasised the importance of working with Shia groups – but rejected
any link with the Shia militia and parties because of their
participation in the political institutions set up by the Americans
and their role in sectarian killings.

Abd al-Rahman al-Zubeidy, political spokesman of Ansar al-Sunna, a
salafist (purist Islamic) group with a particularly violent
reputation in Iraq, said his organisation had split over relations
with al-Qaida, whose members were mostly Iraqi, but its leaders
largely foreigners.

“Resistance isn’t just about killing Americans without aims or goals.
Our people have come to hate al-Qaida, which gives the impression to
the outside world that the resistance in Iraq are terrorists. We are
against indiscriminate killing, fighting should be concentrated only
on the enemy,” he said. He added: “A great gap has opened up between
Sunni and Shia under the occupation and al-Qaida has contributed to
that.”

Wayne White, of Washington’s Middle East Institute and a former
expert adviser to the Iraq Study Group, said it was unclear, given
the diversity within the Sunni Arab insurgency, what influence the
new grouping would have on the ground.

He added: “This does reveal that despite the widening cooperation on
the part of some Sunni Arab insurgent groups with US forces against
al-Qaida in recent months, such cooperation could prove very
shortlived if the US does not make clear that it has a credible exit
strategy.

“With the very real potential for a more full-blown civil war
breaking out in the wake of a substantial reduction of the US
military presence in Iraq, Shia and Kurds appreciate that the
increased ability of Sunni Arabs to organise politically and assemble
in larger armed formations as a result of such cooperation could
confront them with a considerably more formidable challenge as time
goes on.”

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