|Wednesday, 21 April 2004|
US seals deal to defuse showdown with Iraqi fighters
BAGHDAD, Tuesday (AFP) The United States said it had sealed a deal to defuse a showdown with Iraqi fighters in the Sunni Muslim stronghold of Fallujah, as President George W. Bush criticised Spain for withdrawing its troops from Iraq.
As the 1,432 Spanish troops started the pullout, Moqtada Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric leading an insurgency against occupation forces, ordered a halt to attacks on Spanish forces.
Bush, meanwhile, named the US envoy to the United Nations, John Negroponte, to be the first ambassador to the new Iraqi government scheduled to take over from the US-led coalition on June 30.
After two weeks of fierce fighting around Fallujah, west of Baghdad, the US-led coalition said an agreement with local leaders allowed for joint patrols with Iraqi security forces, an amnesty for those who turned in heavy weapons and shorter curfew hours.
Coalition spokesman Dan Senor said both sides promised to take steps toward a "full and unbroken" ceasefire but added that, if it did not hold, "major hostilities" could resume at short notice.
Several days of talks were held to end the worst violence of the occupation, which followed the brutal killing of four US contractors in Fallujah. More than 600 Iraqis and scores of US soldiers have been killed.
The US Marines announced a draft plan for more than 77 million dollars in US aid for Fallujah once the fighting draws to an end. About 500,000 dollars would be spent in the first 30 days after peace is restored, said Major Michael Clausen of the marine's civil affairs department.
In Washington, the White House reported a carefully worded but searing critique Bush made to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
In a phone call initiated by the Spanish premier, Bush "expressed his regret to president Zapatero about the decision to abruptly announce the pullout of Spanish troops from Iraq," said spokesman Scott McClellan.
In a veiled rebuke, Bush "stressed the importance of carefully considering future actions to avoid giving false comfort to terrorists or enemies of freedom in Iraq."
Produced by Lake House