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Sunni Pol Wants U.S. Withdrawal

A Sunni Arab politician who brokered secret talks between American officials and insurgents said Wednesday he has formed a group to give political voice to Iraqi fighters, and demanded a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal.

The announcement from former electricity minister Ayham al-Samarie, a Sunni Arab who is a dual Iraq-U.S. citizen, came a day after President Bush reiterated that disproves of setting a withdrawal timeline and as British Prime Minister Tony Blair stressed the importance of coalition troops remaining in Iraq until the defeat of the insurgency.

The announcement marked the most serious effort to date to draw disenfranchised Sunnis into the political process. Al-Samarie is thought to have strong tribal links throughout the Sunni triangle, where the Sunni branch of the insurgency is concentrated.

Al-Samarie's announcement follows confirmation from American officials including Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld that the U.S. has negotiated with insurgents.

Sunnis are thought to make up the backbone of an insurgency that has killed about 1,370 people — mostly civilians and Iraqi forces — since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced his Shiite-led government April 28.

At a news conference in a Baghdad home, al-Samarie said the new political front, the National Council for Unity and Construction of Iraq, is representing "resistance" fighters who have not carried out attacks against civilians.

Nearly all car bomb and suicide attacks carried out against Iraqis are thought to be the work of Islamic extremist groups such as al Qaeda in Iraq.

In other developments:

  • The State Department called Iraq too dangerous for American travelers on Wednesday, hours after President George W. Bush pointed to "significant progress" there. "Attacks against military and civilian targets throughout Iraq continue," and targets include hotels and restaurants, the State Department's travel warning said. "There have been planned and random killings, as well as extortions and kidnappings."
  • A Turkish businessman who was kidnapped in front of a Baghdad hotel in January was freed by his captors, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. Abdulkadir Tanrikulu reportedly ran a construction company that worked with the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. He was abducted Jan. 13, when gunmen attacked a minibus as it pulled up to a hotel to take him to a construction site.
  • An explosion was heard Thursday in a southern Iraqi city where Japanese troops have been delivering humanitarian aid, a report said. The explosion, which occurred in the early morning hours, was believed to be near the provincial council building in Samawah, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported, citing police. Japan has more than 500 troops near Samawah on a non-combat humanitarian mission that ends in December.
  • Gunmen killed a police lieutenant and wounded another officer north of Baghdad near Baqouba, police said.
  • A mortar round apparently intended for Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone fell short and detonated in the Babil Hotel parking lot, wounding one Iraqi. The barricaded zone houses the Iraqi government and U.S. and British embassies.
  • An explosion thought to be the work of saboteurs damaged a natural gas pipeline linking storage facilities in Yousfiyah, south of Baghdad, to one of two plants where the gas is bottled in the capital. The extent of the damage was unclear and it was not known if it would lead to a shortage. Most people in Baghdad use gas for cooking.
  • The Iraqi Special Tribunal investigating Saddam Hussein's administration released a new video showing five little-known regime members. It was the sixth video released by the tribunal in June. The first showed Saddam being questioned by an investigating magistrate.
  • The government announced the arrest of an Al Qaeda in Iraq leader identified as Sami Ammar Hamid Mahmoud. The announcement said he was arrested in Baghdad on Sunday and was responsible for carrying out kidnappings to fund insurgent attacks.

    But at least one prominent Shiite legislator dismissed al-Samarie's effort.

    "The general terrorist program is to attack electricity plants, water and oil pipelines, mosques, churches and to target the innocents, police and the army. These are terrorist acts, and cannot be represented as acts of resistance," said the legislator, Saad Jawad Qandil.

    The insurgents al-Samarie represents want U.S. troops to leave Iraq in one to three years and military campaigns against Iraqi cities and towns to end, al-Samarie said. They won't put down their arms unless all their goals are met, he added.

    A British newspaper this week reported that al-Samarie brokered two recent meetings between U.S. officials and a group of rebels. Al-Samarie confirmed the talks but wouldn't give details. Al-Samarie was electricity minister in the interim government and comes from Samarra, an insurgent stronghold 60 miles north of Baghdad.

    More than 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops seeking to quash insurgents met little resistance as they swept through the city of Hit, 85 miles west of Baghdad, Marine Capt. Jeffrey Pool said.

    The troops were moving through communities along the Euphrates River, the third major campaign in western Anbar province in recent weeks. Pool said no casualties was reported among American and Iraqi troops.

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