Sun, Apr 17, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Talibani urged not to bow to US

IRAQ CONFLICT With no letup in the intensity of insurgent attacks, an influential Sunni cleric is calling on the newl Iraqi president not to `obey and kneel' to pressure from the US

AP , BAGHDAD, IRAQ

Insurgents killed three members of Iraq's security forces on Saturday, firing from speeding vehicles on army soldiers and policemen in a northern city, officials said.

Gunmen killed a policeman and two soldiers as they headed to work in a pair of separate drive-by shootings in the city of Kirkuk, police Brigadier Sarhat Qadir said.

Further to the north, in Mosul, a car bomb damaged one vehicle in a US military convoy, but there were no reports of casualties, said Sergeant John Franzen. Mosul is 360km northwest of Baghdad.

On Friday, an important Sunni cleric urged Iraq's new president to buck US pressure and free thousands of suspected rebels, a sign the religious group most often associated with the Iraqi insurgency might be willing to work with the new government.

But there was no letup in violence Friday, as militants set off four bombs that killed at least two civilians and wounded 14 in Baghdad, capping a bloody week of attacks and clashes.

Also Friday, Ukraine began withdrawing some of its 1,462 soldiers from Iraq amid plans to have them all out by year's end, the US military said. It said the Ukrainian force would be down to 900 soldiers by May 12.

If President "Jalal Talabani wants to begin a new page, he must first release those in jail. Secondly, there must be a full pardon," Ahmed Abdul Ghafour al-Samarrai, a cleric in the influential Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, said during Friday prayers.

He also urged Talabani to refuse to "obey and kneel to pressure from" US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The US has opposed freeing prisoners or pardoning insurgents. It remains unclear how much say Talabani will have in his largely ceremonial post. Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari is putting together a Cabinet and it isn't known if the new government backs a pardon.

Al-Samarrai's comments came three days after Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Iraq and urged the emerging government to avoid politicizing the Iraqi military.

After he was sworn in as president this month, Talabani appealed to Iraq's homegrown militants to work with the newly-elected leadership and suggested they could be pardoned, although he said the Iraqi government would continue to fight foreign insurgents.

"We must find political and peaceful solutions with those duped Iraqis who have been involved in terrorism and pardon them, and invite them to join the democratic process," Talabani said after his inauguration. "But we must firmly counter and isolate the criminal terrorism that's imported from abroad."

Most of the 10,500 detainees are held by the US military, and some lawmakers have said the new president is just expressing his personal opinion. Still, Talabani and other members of the new government are reaching out to Iraq's Sunni minority, which was the dominant group under Saddam Hussein and is believed to be the backbone of the insurgency.

Al-Samarrai's comment was the latest sign that his organization, which has been alleged to have links to insurgents, is responding to the new government. Two weeks ago, he instructed his followers to begin joining Iraqi security forces.

There have been growing calls to deal with the detained Iraqis. Outgoing interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi this week sent a message to the US military commander in Iraq, General George Casey, asking him to review the prisoners' cases.

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