Eleven Sunni insurgent groups have offered an immediate halt to all attacks, including those on American troops, if the United States agrees to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq in two years, insurgent and government officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Withdrawal is the centerpiece of a set of demands from the groups, which operate north of Baghdad in the heavily Sunni Arab provinces of Salahuddin and Diyala. Although much of the fighting has been to the west, those provinces are increasingly violent and attacks there have crippled oil and commerce routes.
The groups who've made contact have largely shunned attacks on Iraqi civilians, focusing instead on the U.S.-led coalition forces. Their offer coincides with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to reach out to the Sunni insurgency with a reconciliation plan that includes an amnesty for fighters.
The Islamic Army in Iraq, Muhammad Army and the Mujahedeen Shura Council, the umbrella group that covers eight militant groups including al Qaeda in Iraq, were not party to any offers to the government.
Naseer al-Ani, a Sunni Arab politician and official with the largest Sunni political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, said that al-Maliki should encourage the process by guaranteeing security for those making the offer and not immediately reject their demands.
"The government should prove its goodwill and not establish red lines," al-Ani said. "If the initiative is implemented in a good way, 70 percent of the insurgent groups will respond positively."
Al-Maliki, in televised remarks Wednesday, did not issue an outright rejection of the timetable demand. But he said it was unrealistic, because he could not be certain when the Iraqi army and police would be strong enough to make a foreign presence unnecessary for Iraq's security.
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Eight of the 11 insurgent groups banded together to approach al-Maliki's government under The 1920 Revolution Brigade, which has claimed credit for killing U.S. troops in the past. All 11, working through intermediaries, have issued identical demands, according to insurgent spokesmen and government officials.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information and for fear of retribution.
The total number of insurgents is not known, nor how many men belong to each group. But there are believed to be about two dozen insurgent organizations in Iraq, so the 11 contacting the government could represent a substantial part of the Sunni-led insurgency.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he had not seen the reported offer.
"The goal is not to trade something off for something else to make somebody happy, the goal is to succeed," he said.
President Bush has said U.S. troops will remain in Iraq for years to guarantee the success of the new Iraqi government. However, American military officials have said substantial reductions of the current force of 127,000 U.S. troops could be made before the end of 2007.
Al-Maliki's offer of amnesty for insurgents would not absolve those who have killed Iraqis or American coalition troops. But proving which individuals have carried out fatal attacks would, in many, if not most cases, be a difficult task.
The issue is extremely sensitive in the United States, which has lost more than 2,500 uniformed men and women in Iraq, many to the insurgents' bombs and ambushes.
In addition to the withdrawal timetable, the Iraqi insurgents have demanded:
The 1920 Revolution Brigades, the umbrella for seven other groups, was established in the so-called Sunni Triangle north and west of Baghdad shortly after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Its name refers to Iraq's historical fight against British colonialism.