Iraqi rebels demand US troop pullout to lay down arms: MP

BAGHDAD, June 27, 2006 (AFP) – Armed groups fighting US-led forces in Iraq have demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops as a condition for laying down their arms, a Kurdish lawmaker said Tuesday.

At least seven armed groups have been holding indirect dialogue with President Jalal Talabani, and the government Sunday unveiled a reconciliation plan aimed at bringing rebels into the political process in a bid to end the daily cycle of violence in Iraq.

"According to sources close to the presidency, dialogues between the intermediaries of these groups and President Jalal Talabani are continuing," said lawmaker Mahmud Othman.

"The armed groups have put a condition that there must be a timetable for withdrawal of foreign forces and also their resistance to foreign forces must be legitimately recognised."

The United States confirmed Monday that it was considering a plan to sharply reduce its 130,000 strong force in Iraq by the end of 2007, but said it was just one option among many and was not "engraved in stone."

A Shiite lawmaker with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa party told The New York Times that Sunni-led insurgents have approached the government with offers to start negotiations on the basis of the reconciliation plan.

"The Sunni mediators told me there’s a kind of positive approach by these armed groups in response to this initiative," Hassan al-Suneid said.

"I think the initiative will open up a new atmosphere for these dialogues and upgrade them."

But leading MP Jalaluddin al-Saghir from Iraq’s dominant Shiite United Iraqi Alliance said expressed ignorance about any results from the dialogue.

"These talks have led to nothing and the government was informed of no results of these initiatives," Saghir said, suggesting that the government was not a party to these negotiations.