After a quarrelsome three-day meeting, Iraqi politicians have hammered out a final agreement at an Arab League-sponsored conference in Cairo. They condemned terrorism, but differentiated it from what they called the "legitimate right of resistance." And they agreed on the need for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The Iraqi government had opposed both of those measures.
Delegates from Iraq's different religious and ethnic groups smiled and shook hands on an agreement that made few of them completely happy, but all agreed that the deal was a step toward their goal of national reconciliation.
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa read the final statement aloud at a session that had been delayed for hours by wrangling over the wording of several sections.
"Although resistance is a legal right of all nations, terrorism is not legitimate resistance," he said. "We condemn terrorism and acts of violence, killing and kidnapping, targeting Iraqi citizens, humanitarian, civil or government organizations, national wealth and places of worship."
Iraq's Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led government was reported to have opposed recognizing this "right of resistance," but Sunni Arabs had insisted on it, arguing that at least parts of the Iraqi insurgency is engaged in what they see as legitimate resistance against foreign occupation. The final language represents something of a compromise, strongly condemning attacks that target or affect Iraqi civilians and infrastructure, but not attacks that target U.S. or other international troops.
The agreement also has a carefully worded statement on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq. Sunni delegates had demanded a firm timetable for the pullout, while Shi'ites and Kurds insisted that U.S. troops will need to stay until Iraq's own military is ready to secure the country on its own.
The compromise language says there should be a timetable for withdrawal, but it does not actually set one. It also links the withdrawal to the readiness of Iraqi security forces.
Even though the Sunni Arab delegates seem to have won some major concessions, Sunni leader Harith al-Dhari of the influential Muslim Scholars Association said he had reservations about some of the last-minute additions to the text, without elaborating on exactly what they were.
"These reservations do not prevent us from being committed to this statement and being loyal to it, as long as it serves our nation and as long as we think it contributes to improving conditions," he said.
The final document also calls for the release of detainees who have not been brought to trial, and for an end to security raids and detentions without court orders.
As for the nations of the Arab League, they promised to work toward cancellation of Iraq's international debts, and to boost Arab diplomatic representation in Baghdad.
It is not clear whether the deal reached in Cairo will have any real effect on either the political or security situations in Iraq. Insurgent groups did not take part in the meeting, and neither did members of Saddam Hussein's former regime.
The main goal of the Cairo meeting was to prepare for a larger reconciliation conference to be held in Baghdad. Delegates scheduled it for the end of February or the beginning of March.