Peace Talks Still Suspended in Fallujah; Chief Negotiator Released
U.S. forces early Monday released Fallujah’s chief cease-fire negotiator, Sheik Khaled al-Jumeili, whom they detained Friday, following the breakdown of peace talks late last week.
Al-Jumeili, a Muslim cleric, said Monday that negotiations will remain suspended in protest of his three-day detention by U.S. troops, who had accused him of representing the militants.
“The fact is that I’m negotiating on behalf of Fallujah people — civilians, kids, women — who have no power but through being represented by somebody. Since the situation has got up to this, each can go wherever they want and we don’t need to talk about negotiations,” the sheik said Monday in an interview on Al-Arabiya television.
The Interior Ministry said al-Jumeili was released on the orders of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.
Peace talks broke down Thursday after Fallujah clerics rejected Allawi’s “impossible” demand to turn over Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, believed to be in the area, or else face military action. Fallujah leaders insisted that al-Zarqawi was not in the city.
Iraqi National Security Adviser Kassim Daoud on Monday reiterated the government’s ultimatum for Fallujah leaders to hand over all foreign militants or face an assault, though he declined to give a deadline on this demand.
Since Friday, U.S. forces have waged air and ground assaults in Fallujah, targeting suspected key planning centers of al-Zarqawi and his group Tawhid and Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings and hostage beheadings. An Internet statement purportedly posted by Tawhid and Jihad on Sunday claimed allegiance to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, saying it would follow bin Laden’s orders from now on.
On Sunday, gun battles between American troops and insurgents raged on the outskirts of the town, located 40 miles west of Baghdad, according to witnesses. Local hospital officials reported three civilians were killed. The U.S. military reported no casualties, the AP reported. The military operations appear to be laying the groundwork for a broader offensive to recapture Fallujah, which fell under the control of insurgents in April, the New York Times reported.
The Iraqi government has vowed to crack down on insurgents and pacify the country ahead of Iraq’s democratic elections due in January.
Elsewhere, a car bomb exploded late Sunday near a police patrol in Baghdad, killing at least six people, including three police officers, and wounding 26 others. The car, loaded with 1,100 to 1,300 pounds of explosives, hit a cafe near al-Hussein district in the city’s fashionable Jadiriyah district, spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman told the Associated Press.
Sunday’s bombing came a day after unidentified insurgents ambushed and killed nine Iraqi policemen as they returned home from a training course in Jordan. The attack — which occurred in Latifiyah, an insurgent stronghold 25 miles south of Baghdad — is the latest in a series of insurgent assaults against Iraq’s new police force, which is seen as collaborating with the U.S.-back government. The attackers escaped.
Meanwhile, Iraqi officials said a cash-for-weapons program for Shiite fighters in Baghdad’s Sadr City and other locations was extended another two days until Tuesday, the AP reported.
Also Monday, the militant group Islamic Army in Iraq claimed to kill Macedonian hostages it accused of spying for the United States, Al-Jazeera television reported.