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Iraqi Ba'ath Leader Calls On Insurgents To Join Politics

Izzat al-Duri in a 1999 picture
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The fugitive leader of Saddam Hussein's Ba’ath party has called for Iraqi insurgent groups to move into politics, suggesting a possible shift away from armed struggle.

Izzat al-Duri's statement, posted on the Ba’ath Party and Resistance website, urged the formation of a "national, political, or supreme leadership council to include all armed and unarmed resistance powers."

His message comes a month after U.S. forces withdrew from Iraqi urban centers, the first step in a bilateral security pact that had many insurgents claiming victory over U.S. forces.

U.S. troops are supposed to withdraw fully by 2012.

The council's “first goal is to unify a political stance, speeches, and media, and to...promote it in order for it to take the role it deserves, especially after the historical victory of the resistance," the statement said.

Duri, who took over party leadership after Saddam's execution, had previously said he has no quarrel with Iraqi government forces, leaving a question mark over his future plans and that of his supporters after U.S. troops leave.

It is unclear how much influence Duri has over the plethora of Sunni insurgent groups operating in the country, but the Iraqi government often blames former Ba’athists for bomb attacks.

U.S. officials see greater participation of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority in politics as key to reconciling Iraq's feuding sectarian and ethnic groups and ensuring stability when U.S. troops leave.

Sunni Arabs have criticized Iraq's Shi'ite-led government for dragging its feet in embracing former members of the Ba’ath party, and many accuse the government of sidelining Sunnis.

The Iraqi government says it is reaching out to former Ba’athists, but not those with blood on their hands.

Led by Saddam from 1979-2003, the Ba’ath party brutally oppressed Iraq's Shi'ites and Kurds. Duri was Saddam's deputy.

Duri called for compensation for the U.S. occupation and the release of Iraqi prisoners.