June 29, 2005

Iraqis give mixed response to Bush vow to stay on

By Omar Anwar

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - President Bush's vow to Americans tostick with the war in Iraq despite mounting losses won a mixedreception in Baghdad, where Iraqis expressed both resentmentand gratitude on Wednesday.

In a half-hour address to U.S. troops, Bush tied Iraq tohis global campaign against anti-American Islamist militants.

"Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we willfight them there, we will fight them across the world, and wewill stay in the fight until the fight is won," he said on theanniversary of the formal return of sovereignty to Iraqis.

There would be no timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops, hesaid, although the 140,000-strong force would not be enlargedand would "stand down" as Iraqis were trained to "stand up."

Many Iraqis in the capital, weary after more than two yearsof bloodshed and economic dislocation, view U.S. troops with adegree of mistrust but also as a bulwark against sectarianviolence they fear might trigger civil war if they left.

Grateful in the main for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein,many are dismayed by what they see as heavy-handed tactics anda failure by the U.S. occupiers to prevent Iraq becoming a newhaven for foreign Islamists in the chaos that followed Saddam.

"Why don't they find another place to fight terrorism?"asked Abdul Ridha al-Hafadhi, 58, head of a humanitarian aidgroup. "I don't feel comforted by Bush's remarks; there must bea timetable for their departure."

But surveyor Saad al-Rubaie, 33, said: "Bush and Americadecided to help the Iraqi people and that is in our interest."


Bush, who is confronting sliding opinion poll support athome for his handling of Iraq, said setting any kind oftimetable would encourage the insurgents.

U.S. strategy to end the Sunni Arab insurgency involvesapplying constant pressure to those seen as implacable enemieswhile drawing others off the streets and into peacefulpolitics.

U.S. officials say this has involved some talks with Sunnislinked to the insurgency, although they deny it has involvednegotiations with those they consider terrorists.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said such talkstook place, although the government did not take part.

"The negotiations took place in limited geographical areasand our government was not a party, but we will be open to anypower which lays down its weapons and participates positivelyin the peaceful process," Zebari told reporters in Yemen.

On Wednesday U.S. forces arrested Dhahir al-Dhari, leaderof one of Iraq's largest Sunni tribes, whose brother is thehead of the main Sunni religious body, the Muslim Clerics'Association. He was freed later in the day.

Another Sunni leader, Ayham al-Samarai, a former ministerin the previous, U.S.-backed interim government, launched a newpolitical movement, saying he aimed to give a voice to figuresfrom the "legitimate Iraqi resistance."

"The birth of this political bloc is to silence theskeptics who say there is no legitimate Iraqi resistance andthat they cannot reveal their political face," he told a newsconference.

Militant group Islamic Army in Iraq on Wednesday threatenedto kill Samarai, who has said repeatedly that he has madecontact with insurgent groups interested in laying down arms.

"He is a target of the mujahideen in general and inparticular of Islamic Army in Iraq, Mujahideen Army and Army ofAnsar al-Sunna," it said in a statement posted on a Web siteand also signed by the two other militant groups.

All three have denied they were in talks to stop fighting.

Violence has worsened sharply in Iraq since the Shi'ite-and Kurd-led government took power two months ago.

On Wednesday Polish troops in Diwaniya south of Baghdadsaid they killed attackers who threw a grenade near theirpatrol, wounding two Poles.

U.S. forces said a mortar in Tal Afar near Mosul in thenorth killed four civilians and wounded 21. In the same townIraqi forces killed four insurgents in a gunbattle after therebels fired at them from a mosque, the U.S. military said.

Thousands of people turned out in Baghdad for the funeralof Dhari Ali al-Fayadh, the oldest member of the newparliament, who was killed by a suicide car bomber on Tuesdayalong with five of his entourage.

Also buried was a journalist whose family said he was shotby U.S. soldiers who apparently took him for a suicide bomber.

The bulk of the insurgents, who have harried U.S. forceswith dozens of daily attacks costing more than 1,700 lives, areIraqi Sunnis. They have made common cause with small numbers ofguerrillas drawn from the wider Sunni Arab world, like alQaeda's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who have come to wage holy war.

(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald, WaleedIbrahim, Peter Graff and Lutfi Abu Oun)