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Iraq: New Iraqi President Urges U.S. To Stay Amid Protests

Amid anti-American protests in Baghdad, new Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has stated he wants U.S. troops to stay in the country as violence continues and insurgents reject an offer of amnesty. But the protests have nonetheless put the issue of possible withdrawal of U.S. troops on the new Iraqi government's agenda.

Prague, 11 April 2005 -- Fresh violence erupted across Iraq on 8 April as insurgents rejected an amnesty offer from the nation's new president, Jalal Talabani.

At least three suicide car bombs exploded at the entrance of a U.S. military base in Qaim, near the border with Syria. The number of casualties is still unclear. U.S. officials believe that Qaim, which has been the scene of frequent violence, is used for smuggling insurgents and weapons into Iraq.

The blasts came after Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari told a news conference yesterday that terrorism is coming mainly from outside Iraq and urged an international solution to the problem:

"We are suffering from the problem of terror which is coming from outside, from outside the frontiers," al-Zebari said. "There is a meeting for the neighboring countries to be held in Istanbul on 18 and 19 of this month. Iraq will be present in this meeting and will put this dossier [on the table] in a strong way, in front of foreign ministers of neighboring countries of Iraq."

In an attempt to quell the insurgency, new Iraqi President Talabani offered an amnesty last week. The move was immediately rejected by Abu Mu'sab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who leads Al-Qaeda's Iraqi operations.

Yahia Said, a researcher on Iraq and other transitional countries at the London School of Economics, said that al-Zarqawi's rejection doesn't mean amnesty bids are futile. He said it is natural that al-Zarqawi rejected the offer, but that the amnesty was not addressed at him.

"As a matter of fact, I'm sure whatever Talabani had in mind, it would not cover Zarqawi himself in anyway," Said said. "It would be an amnesty for those who are in the insurgency, as the president said, [who fight U.S. troops] for nationalist motives and for those who are there out of desperation and it would not cover criminals or terrorists like Zarqawi."

Said said that al-Zarqawi's frequent declarations on Islamist web sites do not reflect the attitudes of all insurgents.

In another challenge to the new authorities, supporters of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr staged a huge rally in Baghdad on 9 April, demanding the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Talabani said that U.S. troops should stay at least two more years.

Abdul Hadi al-Daraji, a spokesman for al-Sadr, told the demonstrators that foreign troops should leave Iraq and that Saddam Hussein should be tried immediately.

"We come to Firdos Square to bring down the 'Hadam' ['the destroyer,' referring to Saddam]," al-Daraji said. "We are calling for him and his followers to be tried. The Iraqi people did not get anything from the occupation. The terrorism we have here is related to the occupiers in Iraq. We will announce our demands today, during the demonstration, and they will be important. All of Iraq's groups will participate following Muqtada al-Sadr's call for protest."

Many Iraqis appear to share these feelings.

Said said that polls have long suggested that some 60 percent of Iraqis want the U.S. to leave the country at once and that the demonstration organized by al-Sadr largely reflected the general mood.

The London-based analyst also said that most political parties competing in the parliamentary elections stress in their programs that Washington must present a timetable of a withdrawal.

"It's a very popular demand and al-Sadr, as a populist leader, is not staging this campaign in vain," Said said. This is him positioning himself for the next elections."

He said the Shi'ite parties now in power will be under considerable pressure to act under this demand.

However, led by Talabani, many in the new establishment are saying they want the U.S. troops to stay until the new Iraqi army is in place.

"That is definitely something that is in contradiction with what many of them have been promising in the election campaign and that is in contradiction with the moods on the street," Said said. "The problem with these politicians is that they believe that their survival depends on the presence of the foreign troops."

Talabani, the first Kurd to serve as president of a majority Arab nation, said yesterday that U.S. troops should stay at least two more years.

But senior U.S. military officials have said recently that if Iraq stabilizes, Washington could begin to make substantial cuts in its troop presence in about a year.

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