A prominent Sunni politician in Iraq says he has established a new forum for insurgent leaders, who seek to negotiate a peaceful end to the violence and to begin fully participating in Iraq's political process. Some of the core demands of the mainly Sunni insurgents have already been rejected by the United States and the Shi'ite and Kurdish-dominated interim Iraqi government.
At a news conference Tuesday in Baghdad, Sunni politician Ayham al-Samarie announced the establishment of the National Council for Iraqi Unification and Rebuilding.
The politician, who served as electricity minister under the previous interim government of Iyad Allawi, says the name was chosen to reflect the desire for peace among the ethnic groups, and peace and security in the streets.
Implying that many Sunni Muslims who feel disenfranchised from Iraq's society are at the heart of a violent insurgency, Mr. Samarie says peace cannot be restored until the demands of the Sunni minority are heard and at least partially met.
"We are trying to put the conditions for the resistance to be a part of the political process," said Mr. Samarie. "They are looking to start talking for the withdrawal of the Americans and the multinational forces within a year to three years. This is one of the main conditions they have and the others are stopping all the operations right now, attacking villages and cities. They think these villages and cities are destroyed for no reason."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the U.S. military recently initiated discussions with Sunni leaders who claim to wield influence with insurgent groups. Mr. Rumsfeld said the talks were in the early stages and had not yet yielded much progress.
It is not known whether Mr. Samarie is one of the leaders in talks with U.S. military officials. But Mr. Samarie's discussion of insurgent demands sheds some light on why such talks may be going nowhere.
The Bush administration has steadfastly rejected setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, arguing that doing so would embolden the insurgents to commit more acts of violence, not less.
The newly elected Shi'ite and Kurdish-dominated interim government also supports the idea of keeping foreign troops in Iraq until enough Iraqi police and security forces can be trained to handle security matters on their own.
Another contentious insurgent demand is the return of former members of Saddam Hussein's predominantly-Sunni Baath Party to their posts in the Iraqi government and military.
After Saddam was toppled in April, 2003 U.S. administrator Paul Bremer dismissed the Iraqi army and all high ranking Baath Party members. The move was criticized, among others, by Mr. Bremer's successor and former Baath Party member, Iyad Allawi, who began rehiring skilled Baathists to work in his government during his eight months in office.
But long-oppressed Shi'ite Muslims and Kurds won a decisive victory in January elections, which were largely boycotted by Sunni Muslims. Despite urgings from the United States and Mr. Allawi not to alienate Sunnis further by purging former Baathists, new Shi'ite interim leader Ibrahim Jafari has publicly stated that he is committed to ridding the government of any Baathist who profited as a Saddam loyalist or carried out the party's brutal policies against Iraqi Shi'ites and Kurds.
Mr. Samarie, who is now a member of the Iraqi parliament, acknowledges he has no authority from the government to negotiate with insurgent groups. He also declined to say which insurgent groups were participating in the forum, citing security reasons.
Hard-line Iraqi fundamentalists and members of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq group have killed several Sunni leaders, who have attempted to reach out to the interim government and U.S. officials.