Iraqi Politicians Make Distinction Between Terrorism, 'Resistance'

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

( - Iraqi politicians have ended a "reconciliation" conference with a statement that condemns terrorism against civilians, but calls "resistance" legitimate and leaves open the issue of attacks against U.S. and other foreign coalition troops.

Delegates at the Arab League-organized meeting in Cairo also agreed to "call for the withdrawal of foreign forces," although no dates were specified.

The closing statement was hammered out as a compromise between Iraq Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis attending the three-day meeting in preparation for a fuller reconciliation conference planned inside Iraq early next year.

Iraq's government is led by Shiites and Kurds, while Sunni parties have largely boycotted the process. Parliamentary elections to set up the first legislature under the new constitution are scheduled for mid-December.

The document asserts that "resistance is a legal right of all nations."

On the other hand, it 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."

By referring exclusively to attacks against or affecting Iraqis, the wording implies that violence against foreign troops constitutes "resistance" and is therefore legitimate.

With regard to the withdrawal of the 180,000-strong U.S.-led multinational force, the document's careful wording - another compromise - tied their departure to a timetable for building a strong Iraqi military to take over security responsibilities.

The document also called for the release of those being detained without charge and for security raids to stop. Arab League nations pledged to work towards canceling Iraq's outstanding foreign debt and to increase diplomatic representation in Baghdad.

Participants at the Cairo gathering included the Muslim Clerics' Association, an anti-U.S. Sunni organization which has some links to violent groups.

The association's head, Harith al-Dhari, called the violence a legitimate response to the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq

Al-Jazeera reported that the dispute over terrorism versus insurgency almost caused the meeting to collapse.

Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, a Shiite, told the Arabic television network that attacks on foreign forces were not acceptable.

"What is happening in Iraq has nothing to do with resistance but it is terrorism," he said. "They try to target an American tank and it could hit the target once but misses dozens of times and explodes in the middle of our people."

Although the conference brought together representatives of Iraq's divided ethnic and religious groups, neither "insurgents" nor others linked to Saddam Hussein's former Baathist regime were invited.

Some Sunni participants pressed for those elements to be invited to future meetings.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa told a press conference afterwards he considered the meeting a considerable success.

"We have succeeded in bringing opinions closer by about 70 percent but I will continue to warn against exaggerated expectations."

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday that the U.S. encouraged Iraqi leaders to reach out and try to bring as many Iraqis into the political process as possible.

"There are always going to be some ... that will never reconcile to the political process," he told a press conference.

"There are those hardcore terrorists as well as those people - Iraqis associated with those terrorists - who are never going to be reconciled to the political process, and we and the Iraqis are working to address those issues on the military front."

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow