US reaches out to insurgents


Summary

US troops' officers in Iraq are seeking local ceasefire deals with insurgents, after the deadliest month for American forces in two-and-a-half years.

Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the number two US officer in Iraq, told reporters that about four-fifths of the militants currently fighting American forces were thought to be ready to join Iraq's political process.

"So we want to reach back to them," he said. "And 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."

As Mr Odierno was speaking to reporters by a video-link to the Pentagon in Washington, residents in west Baghdad reported that insurgents from the nationalist 1920 Brigades were fighting their former Al-Qaeda allies.

US commanders hope to convince local Iraqi resistance groups to split from Islamist outfits like Al-Qaeda that are thought irreconcilable.

In the western province of Anbar, tribal leaders have already turned on insurgents.

"It's happening in small levels. Now, again, it's just beginning, so we have a lot of work to do in this," said Mr Odierno, noting that Shiite groups such as the Mahdi Army might be won over along with Sunni insurgents.

"We have organised ourselves to be more aggressive in this area. We believe a large majority of groups within Iraq are reconcilable, and are now interested in engaging with us," the general said.

The comments by Mr Odierno, second in command in Iraq to General David Petraeus, are the clearest signal yet of a change in strategy by US forces after more than four years of bitter combat with insurgents of all stripes.

More US soldiers killed in Iraq

The military has announced that six more US soldiers have been killed in Iraq, confirming that May has become the deadliest month for American forces since the battle of Fallujah in November 2004.

Two US soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb on Wednesday in the southwest corner of the capital, a ward of battered neighbourhoods that has seen intense fighting.

A separate blast that day killed two others on foot patrol.

Another soldier was killed earlier this week by a roadside blast northwest of the capital, and a US soldier died of "non-battle related causes," the military said Thursday.

The latest deaths bring US casualties for the month to 119, the most since November 2004 when marines launched a full-scale invasion to retake the city of Fallujah in the volatile western Anbar province.

Unlike in Fallujah, US forces have fought no major set-piece encounters in May, but instead have been fanning out through Baghdad and a belt of flashpoint towns around the capital in a bid to quell sectarian violence.

Pressure on Bush increases

The news will increase pressure on US President George W Bush, who has already seen domestic support for his war strategy fall to an all-time low and is facing calls to set a timetable for troops’ withdrawals.

May's casualties coincide with a "surge" in US reinforcements, which is due to peak next month.

US and Iraqi troops are basing themselves in relatively exposed patrol bases in order to control Baghdad street by street.

More Iraqi police and civilian casualties

Violence continued elsewhere, even in Anbar province where recent attacks had declined following a decision by tribes there to fight Al-Qaeda led insurgents.

One person was killed in Ramadi when a truck bomb attacked a local army unit, wounding seven civilians and six soldiers.

In nearby Fallujah, which has remained home to a stubborn insurgency, a checkpoint in a northeast neighbourhood was attacked by small arms fire and a man wearing a belt of explosives, killing one policeman.

In the northern city of Kirkuk a bomb killed one person while police in Mosul found five corpses, three in army uniforms.

The US State Department reported two of its Iraqi employees missing in Baghdad days after Al-Qaeda in Iraq issued an unverified statement that it had killed two local US embassy employees.


US troops' officers in Iraq are seeking local ceasefire deals with insurgents, after the deadliest month for American forces in two-and-a-half years.

Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the number two US officer in Iraq, told reporters that about four-fifths of the militants currently fighting American forces were thought to be ready to join Iraq's political process.

"So we want to reach back to them," he said. "And 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."

As Mr Odierno was speaking to reporters by a video-link to the Pentagon in Washington, residents in west Baghdad reported that insurgents from the nationalist 1920 Brigades were fighting their former Al-Qaeda allies.

US commanders hope to convince local Iraqi resistance groups to split from Islamist outfits like Al-Qaeda that are thought irreconcilable.

In the western province of Anbar, tribal leaders have already turned on insurgents.

"It's happening in small levels. Now, again, it's just beginning, so we have a lot of work to do in this," said Mr Odierno, noting that Shiite groups such as the Mahdi Army might be won over along with Sunni insurgents.

"We have organised ourselves to be more aggressive in this area. We believe a large majority of groups within Iraq are reconcilable, and are now interested in engaging with us," the general said.

The comments by Mr Odierno, second in command in Iraq to General David Petraeus, are the clearest signal yet of a change in strategy by US forces after more than four years of bitter combat with insurgents of all stripes.

More US soldiers killed in Iraq

The military has announced that six more US soldiers have been killed in Iraq, confirming that May has become the deadliest month for American forces since the battle of Fallujah in November 2004.

Two US soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb on Wednesday in the southwest corner of the capital, a ward of battered neighbourhoods that has seen intense fighting.

A separate blast that day killed two others on foot patrol.

Another soldier was killed earlier this week by a roadside blast northwest of the capital, and a US soldier died of "non-battle related causes," the military said Thursday.

The latest deaths bring US casualties for the month to 119, the most since November 2004 when marines launched a full-scale invasion to retake the city of Fallujah in the volatile western Anbar province.

Unlike in Fallujah, US forces have fought no major set-piece encounters in May, but instead have been fanning out through Baghdad and a belt of flashpoint towns around the capital in a bid to quell sectarian violence.

Pressure on Bush increases

The news will increase pressure on US President George W Bush, who has already seen domestic support for his war strategy fall to an all-time low and is facing calls to set a timetable for troops’ withdrawals.

May's casualties coincide with a "surge" in US reinforcements, which is due to peak next month.

US and Iraqi troops are basing themselves in relatively exposed patrol bases in order to control Baghdad street by street.

More Iraqi police and civilian casualties

Violence continued elsewhere, even in Anbar province where recent attacks had declined following a decision by tribes there to fight Al-Qaeda led insurgents.

One person was killed in Ramadi when a truck bomb attacked a local army unit, wounding seven civilians and six soldiers.

In nearby Fallujah, which has remained home to a stubborn insurgency, a checkpoint in a northeast neighbourhood was attacked by small arms fire and a man wearing a belt of explosives, killing one policeman.

In the northern city of Kirkuk a bomb killed one person while police in Mosul found five corpses, three in army uniforms.

The US State Department reported two of its Iraqi employees missing in Baghdad days after Al-Qaeda in Iraq issued an unverified statement that it had killed two local US embassy employees.