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Iraq considers arming insurgents

USA TODAY | July 4, 2006
By Rick Jervis

BAGHDAD — Iraq's government is studying a request from some local insurgent leaders to supply them with weapons so they can turn on the heavily armed foreign fighters who were once their allies, according to two Iraqi lawmakers.

Leaders claiming to represent about 11 insurgent groups asked for weapons to fight foreign al-Qaeda elements in Iraq, said Haider al-Ibadi, a Shiite lawmaker and member of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party.

"They want to take part in the war against terrorists," said al-Ibadi, who supports the proposal. "They claim they could wipe out the terrorists and work with the government."

The insurgent request was confirmed by al-Ibadi and Mithal al-Alusi, another lawmaker. Al-Maliki was out of the country, and several officials in his office declined to comment.

The request came out of talks between people claiming to represent insurgent groups and the Iraqi government.

The U.S. military said insurgent talks are an Iraqi matter.

Coalition forces would "fully support the broad dialogue for reconciliation" but would not discuss details, military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said in an e-mail.

Al-Ibadi said a committee of top Iraqi officials is being formed to study the request.

A cornerstone of al-Maliki's government has been a reconciliation plan aimed at undermining Sunni support for the insurgency and drawing Sunnis into the political process.

Al-Maliki has called for the release of 3,000 detainees in U.S.-run prisons and amnesty for some fighters.

Al-Maliki has not specified which fighters might be pardoned. The issue of whether to extend amnesty to fighters who have killed Iraqi or American soldiers has generated a vigorous debate. The idea of arming insurgent groups also could raise troubling issues.

Al-Alusi, an independent lawmaker, said when he heard that Sunni insurgents had asked for weapons to fight foreign groups, he advised al-Maliki against it. Al-Alusi said al-Maliki was considering it.

"We should stop creating militias," al-Alusi said. "We have too many political mafia groups in this country. Enough is enough."

U.S. and Iraqi military officials have been trying for the past couple of years to drive a wedge between Iraqi fighters and foreign groups.

Foreign fighters account for 4% to 10% of the estimated 20,000 or more insurgents in Iraq, according to a U.S. State Department report.

Foreign fighters are behind some of the deadliest bombings, however.

Asked about the measure, some parliamentary members opposed the idea.

Others, including Mahmoud Othman, a leading Kurdish lawmaker, said they were unaware of it, highlighting the secrecy and sometimes confusion surrounding government meetings with insurgents.

The insurgents are represented by a mix of tribal leaders and former Iraqi army leaders. Government officials are still trying to determine whether the officials speak with authority for the insurgents, al-Ibadi said.





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