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Iraqi PM Criticizes Call for US, British Troop Withdrawal


Iraq's Shi'ite prime minister lashed out Wednesday against Sunni Arab assertions that the country's Sunni-led insurgency is legitimate because it is only aimed at ridding the country of foreign occupiers.

During a government-sponsored seminar on anti-terrorism Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari bluntly told lawmakers that many people in Iraq were "tired" of the slogans that call for the departure of the British and the Americans.

Mr. Jaafari said that the nearly 180,000 foreign troops in Iraq were operating under a United Nations mandate and urged all Iraqis to be tolerant of their presence until that mandate ends at the end of 2006.

The prime minister's remarks were clearly meant to show his displeasure over a declaration, made at a recent reconciliation conference in Cairo, that called for a specific timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. and other coalition troops from Iraq. The declaration also said that opponents of the coalition troop presence here had a legitimate right to resist.

The communiqué drafted by Iraqi Shi'ite, Kurdish and Sunni politicians who attended the conference was hailed as a step forward in reaching out to the disaffected Sunni Muslim minority.

So far, Sunnis have largely boycotted the political process, partly because they say that Iraq could not be considered sovereign while foreign troops patrolled Iraqi streets. Disgruntled Sunni Arabs, angry over losing privileges and jobs after the fall of Saddam Hussein, are believed to be financing and supporting much of violence in the country's two-and-a-half year-old insurgency.

But some Shi'ite officials, including Mr. Jaafari and Iraq's controversial interior minister, Bayan Jabr, says the Cairo declaration failed to address the problem of Sunni insurgents and extremists targeting Shi'ite civilians and the government's largely Shi'ite security forces.

There are no exact figures on how many Shi'ite civilians and security personnel have been killed in Iraq in insurgent violence, but estimates run into the thousands.

Last week, Sunni leaders widely criticized Interior Minister Jabr after U.S. troops inadvertently discovered nearly 170 starving and abused Sunni Arab detainees in an interior ministry-run facility in Baghdad.

Sunni Arabs said that the incident proved that Shi'ite officials inside the ministry are working with an Iranian-backed militia called the Badr Brigade to round up, torture, and kill Sunnis in revenge for attacks by Sunni insurgents. Interior Minister Jabr says his detention facility only held hardcore terrorists, who had warrants out for their arrest.

Since the discovery of the detainees, there has been growing friction between the U.S. military and Mr. Jabr, on the one side, and the head of the Badr organization, Hadi al-Ameri. Mr. Jabr and Mr. Ameri have both denied charges that the interior ministry has close ties with the Badr group.

Speaking to the Iraqi media on Wednesday, Mr. Ameri, who is also a Shi'ite lawmaker in the National Assembly, did not mention his group's tense relations with the U.S. military. Instead, he called on Iraqis to accept the presence of foreign troops, including more than 140,000 U.S. troops.

Mr. Ameri says the presence of multi-national forces is necessary to keep stability while the country builds up its security forces. He says, in this context, whoever targets coalition troops for violence should be automatically considered terrorists, not legitimate fighters.

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