Friday, June 01, 2007

US military seeks ceasefires in Iraq

US military seeks ceasefires in Iraq
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington and Steve Negus, Iraq,correspondent
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 1 2007 03:00 | Last updated: June 1 2007 03:00

US military officers in Iraq are attempting to negotiate ceasefires with some insurgent groups that have been responsible for the violence in the country.

Lt General Raymond Odierno, commander of ground forces in Iraq, said yesterday the US was responding to insurgent groups that have signalled an interest in reconciliation.

"We're talking about ceasefires and maybe signing some things that say they won't conduct operations against the government of Iraq or against coalition forces," he said.

But Gen Odierno cautioned that he did not want to be "too optimistic" about the prospects for success.

In Washington, Republicans are increasingly warning President George W. Bush that he must demonstrate progress in Iraq by September, when military commanders and officials will present their first major assessment of the military "surge".

Gen Odierno told the Washington Post earlier this month that it would be difficult to assess the impact of the surge until next spring. But yesterday he suggested that commanders could conclude as early as August that it was not working.

"The assessment might be 'I need a little more time'," he said. "The assessment might be 'I've seen enough and it's effective' or 'I've seen enough, and it's not going to be effective'," he said.

The US is facing increased attacks in Iraq. The death toll for May reached 122, making May the deadliest month for the US since the insurgency took hold in late 2004. Gen Odierno said the recent spike appeared in part aimed at influencing the debate in Washington.

"[The enemy in Iraq] understand that if things aren't going well, a recommendation might be made to reduce our force presence here in Iraq," he said.

The nascent negotiations with insurgents about ceasefires also appeared designed to help boost progress in Iraq before the September milestone. The US has admitted for some time to contacts with insurgent groups, and in some cases has reportedly reached informal understandings whereby certain groups curtail attacks on US troops. However, the insurgency is highly decentralized and it is very difficult to tell whether self-declared insurgent interlocutors actually have the power to stop attacks in any given area, or whetheran agreement is beinghonoured.

A clear, public ceasefire in which a major insurgent group suspends attacks on US and Iraqi government forces would be major indicator that a political solution is possible. US and Iraqi officials have been increasingly confident that such a deal could be achieved with the more nationalist branches of the insurgency, isolating the more radical al-Qaeda-affiliated branches.

They have been encouraged by an increasingly public rift between al-Qaeda and more mainstream Sunni groups such as the Islamic army of Iraq.


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