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Iraqi leaders seek withdrawal date

Official suggests U.S.-led forces leave by end of '06

CAIRO, Egypt — Leaders of Iraq's sharply divided Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis called Monday for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in the country and said Iraq's opposition had a "legitimate right" of resistance.

The final communique, hammered out at the end of three days of negotiations at a preparatory reconciliation conference under the auspices of the Arab League, condemned terrorism, but was a clear acknowledgment of the Sunni position that insurgents should not be labeled as terrorists if their operations do not target innocent civilians or institutions designed to provide for the welfare of Iraqi citizens.

The participants in Cairo agreed on "calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops according to a timetable, through putting in place an immediate national program to rebuild the armed forces . . . control the borders and the security situation" and end terror attacks.

Sunni leaders have been pressing the Shiite-majority government to agree to a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. The statement recognized that goal, but did not lay down a specific time — reflecting instead the government's stance that Iraqi security forces must be built up first.

On Monday, Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr suggested U.S.-led forces should be able to leave Iraq by the end of next year, saying the one-year extension of the mandate for the multinational force in Iraq by the U.N. Security Council this month could be the last.

In Iraq meanwhile, U.S. soldiers fired on a civilian vehicle Monday because they feared it might hold a suicide bomber, killing at least two adults and a child northeast of the capital, American and Iraqi officials said.

The troops fired on the car because it was moving erratically outside a U.S. base in Baqouba, 35 miles from Baghdad, said Maj. Steven Warren, a U.S. spokesman. "It was one of these regrettable, tragic incidents," Warren said.

Iraqi officials have long complained about American troops firing at civilian vehicles that appear suspicious. U.S. officials note that suicide car bombers often strike U.S. and Iraqi checkpoints.

The shooting took place in a province that has experienced at least four major bombings in the last three weeks — including a suicide car bomb Monday that missed U.S. vehicles but killed five civilians outside Baqouba.

Mystery continued to surround a firefight that broke out when U.S. and Iraqi forces surrounded a house in the northern Iraq city of Mosul that was believed to be used by members of al-Qaida in Iraq. Eight insurgents and four Iraqi policemen died in the assault, officials said.

Iraq's foreign minister said tests were being done to determine if the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, died in the raid. And a U.S. government official confirmed that DNA from the insurgents' bodies had been taken for testing. The official in Washington spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.


Contributing: Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue