100 Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish leaders reach agreement at end of Arab League meeting. From the New Duranty Times:
CAIRO – For the first time, Iraq’s political factions on Monday collectively called for a timetable for withdrawal of foreign forces, in a moment of consensus that comes as the Bush administration battles pressure at home to commit itself to a pullout schedule.
The announcement, made at the conclusion of a reconciliation conference here backed by the Arab League, was a public reaching out by Shiites, who now dominate Iraq’s government, to Sunni Arabs on the eve of parliamentary elections that have been put on shaky ground by weeks of sectarian violence.
About 100 Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders, many of whom will run in the election on Dec. 15, signed a closing memorandum on Monday that “demands a withdrawal of foreign troops on a specified timetable, dependent on an immediate national program for rebuilding the security forces,” the statement said.
“The Iraqi people are looking forward to the day when foreign forces will leave Iraq, when its armed and security forces will be rebuilt and when they can enjoy peace and stability and an end to terrorism,” it continued.
The meeting was intended as preparation for a much larger conference in Iraq in late February. The recommendations made here are to be the starting ground for that meeting.
In Washington, Justin Higgins, a State Department spokesman, said, “The United States supports the basic foundation of the conference and we certainly support ongoing discussion among Iraq’s various political and religious communities.”
But regarding troop withdrawal, he said: “Multinational forces are present in Iraq under a mandate from the U.N. Security Council. As President Bush has said, the coalition remains committed to helping the Iraqi people achieve security and stability as they rebuild their country. We will stay as long as it takes to achieve those goals and no longer.”
Shiite leaders have long maintained that a pullout should be done according to milestones, and not before Iraqi security forces are fully operational. The closing statement upheld a Sunni demand for a pullout, while preserving aspects of Shiite demands, but did not specify when a withdrawal should begin, making it more of a symbolic gesture than a concrete agenda item that could be followed up by the Iraqi government…