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 afterthat disproves of setting a withdrawal timeline and as 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:
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.