Iraq: No extension of US pullback date

May 4, 2009 11:12:32 AM PDT
Iraq will not extend the June 30 deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw from urban areas despite concerns about a resurgence of violence in recent weeks, a spokesman said Monday. The government has insisted it is committed to the timeline laid out in a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement that calls for American forces to pull back from urban areas by the summer and from the rest of the country by the end of 2011.

But a series of high-profile bombings have cast doubt on the readiness of Iraqi forces to take over security responsibilities. In particular, U.S. commanders have pointed to the volatile northern city of Mosul as a possible exception to the withdrawal plans.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, however, said the deadlines were "non-extendable."

"These dates cannot be extended and this is consistent with the transfer and handover of responsibility to Iraqi security forces," al-Dabbagh said in a statement.

Underscoring the dangers, two car bombs exploded almost simultaneously in Baghdad near the Oil Ministry and a police academy, said police officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

At least three people were killed and eight wounded in the attack, according to the U.S. military.

North of the capital, a Sunni tribal group that turned against al-Qaida in Iraq postponed plans to disband Monday after receiving reassurances that its leader would be released, the acting chief said.

The move could avert the latest showdown between Iraq's Shiite-dominated government and the Sunni groups that have accused it of unfairly targeting its members for past bloodshed.

Any step back by the so-called Awakening Councils could leave areas more vulnerable to attacks from insurgents, who have sharply increased bombings in the past month.

The Awakening Councils, which originally were funded by the U.S. military but are now the government's responsibility, are considered a key factor in security gains over the past two years.

But tensions have risen over arrests and allegations that the government has not come through with pledges for Sunni reconciliation and offers of official security posts to members of the groups.

Mullah Nadhum al-Jubouri, the leader of the Awakening Council in Duluiyah, and his two brothers were arrested Saturday by U.S.-Iraqi forces.

A U.S. military statement did not mention specific allegations against the three but said they were wanted for "terrorism."

But Iraqi officials said the charges included carrying out attacks in 2005 and 2006 such as the downing a U.S. helicopter and targeting a police station near Duluiyah, about 45 miles (75 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

Sunni leaders denounced the arrests as a sign the Shiite-led government may be more interested in settling past scores than finding reconciliation.

Acting Duluiyah Awakening Council leader Mohammed Khalil Ibrahim threatened to disband the group in the area they control north of Baghdad unless its leader was freed by early Monday.

But Ibrahim said Monday that he had met with al-Jubouri at the police station in nearby Balad and was told orders had been issued to release him soon.

The group had canceled a meeting planned for Monday to announce its plans to disband after hearing the news, he said.

The arrests raised new questions over how to sort out the messy histories of the thousands of tribal fighters who went from enemies to allies.

Some Awakening Council members were active in the insurgency or sympathizers before becoming disenchanted with al-Qaida's widespread attacks on civilians and their reliance on non-Iraqi leaders.

An amnesty law adopted last year allows officials to clear the slate for some past offenses, but does not cover allegations such as terrorism, kidnapping and rape.

"We ask the government to release him," said another of Nadum al-Jubouri's brothers, Mahir. "He had a role in defeating al-Qaida. Does he deserve to be arrested?"

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Associated Press Writers Saad Abdul-Kadir and Muhieddin Rashad contributed to this report.

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