Soldiers Iraq 88.
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Documents and computer records seized after the raid on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's hideout have given the Iraqi government the upper hand in its fight against al-Qaida in Iraq, the national security adviser said Thursday.
National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie also estimated that a large number of US-led forces will leave Iraq by the end of this year, and a majority will be gone by the end of next year. "And maybe the last soldier will leave Iraq by mid 2008," he said.
To read a translated transcript of a document found in al-Zarqawi's hideout click here.
"We believe that this is the beginning of the end of al-Qaida in Iraq," al-Rubaie said, adding that the documents showed that al-Qaida is in "pretty bad shape," politically and in terms of training, weapons and media.
"Now we have the upper hand," he declared, speaking in English and Arabic at a news conference in Baghdad. "We feel that we know their locations, the names of their leaders, their whereabouts, their movements, through the documents we found during the last few days."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, pressed forward with his carrot and stick approach of cracking down on violence in Baghdad while promoting national reconciliation with those willing to cooperate with the political process as Iraqis endured a second day of checkpoints and traffic jams.
Gunmen killed an engineer and kidnapped another, and a detergent worker was shot to death as he was headed to work elsewhere in western Baghdad, police said, but no major violence was reported in the capital, a day after a major security operation was launched.
Elsewhere, however, gunmen stormed a Sunni mosque near Tikrit on Thursday, killing four people and wounding 15, including a fundamentalist Sunni cleric who has spoken out against the killing of Iraqis as part of the insurgency.
Government forces fanned out across Baghdad for a second day, setting up checkpoints and frisking motorists. Al-Maliki has promised the crackdown would not target any ethnic or sectarian group.
He also opened the door Wednesday for talks with insurgents opposed to the country's political process as part of a national reconciliation initiative, but he said any negotiations would exclude terrorist groups.
It was the latest in a series of tough statements he has made since American bombs killed al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. But he said he would be unveiling a new national reconciliation plan in the coming days that could include a pardon for some prisoners.
A senior White House official said the Iraqis have indicated that they are looking for "models" in national reconciliation. Another official said al-Maliki had inquired whether Bosnians or South Africans might be able to provide expertise.
"There is also a space for dialogue with insurgents who opposed the political process and now want to join the political process after offering guarantees," he said at a news conference. "But on the other hand we are not going to negotiate with the criminals who have killed the innocent."
The security crackdown in Baghdad includes a curfew extended by 4 1/2 hours - from 8:30 p.m. until dawn - and a weapons ban. The government did not say how long the crackdown would last and declined to give precise numbers about checkpoints and troops.
Operation Forward Together, involving 75,000 Iraqi army and police forces backed by US troops, began Wednesday at a crucial time - one day after Bush visited Baghdad to reassure Iraqis of Washington's continued support and exactly a week after al-Zarqawi's death in a US airstrike.
Al-Rubaie said a thumbdrive, a laptop and other documents were found in the debris after the airstrike that killed the al-Qaida in Iraq leader last week and more information has been uncovered in raids of other insurgent hideouts since then.
He called it a "huge treasure ... a huge amount of information."
When asked how he could be sure the information was authentic, al-Rubaie said "there is nothing more authentic than finding a thumbdrive in his pocket."
US President George W. Bush, back in Washington after a surprise visit to Iraq on Tuesday, said the crackdown offered the promise of reducing the violence that has plagued the capital of six million people.
Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi asked Bush for a timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq during their meeting during Bush's visit on Tuesday, the presidential office said.
"I supported him in this," President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said in a statement released Wednesday. Al-Hashimi's representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.
Bush made it clear during his visit that a US military presence - now at about 132,000 troops - would continue, although he stressed the fate of the Iraqis was in their own hands.
Al-Hashimi also said there were "promises to free about 3,500 detainees during the period ending June 26, 2006," the statement said.
That number would be above the 2,500 to be freed as part of a bid by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to soothe Sunni Arab over allegations of random detentions and maltreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led government.
More than 450 detainees were being released Thursday as part of al-Maliki's national reconciliation efforts, according to the US military.
Many Baghdad residents were hopeful about al-Maliki's efforts, although some were clearly impatient as they waited for 15 minutes or more to get through the checkpoints erected in the city as part of the crackdown.
"The reconciliation plan should exclude those responsible for bloodshed of the Iraqi people," Abdul-Sada Ali told AP Television News. "It is a very good step by Mr. Nouri al-Maliki."
Jabbar Hilal agreed.
"Iraq has been passing through a crucial juncture that claimed the lives of so many innocent people as they were doing their jobs and daily work in the streets, shops and markets. So the purpose behind the reconciliation plan is to ensure security and stability in the country," he said.
The security operation was al-Maliki's first major action since his new government of national unity was sworn in on May 20, and a week after he gained the consensus he needed from Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups to fill three key posts - defense, interior and national security.
Tackling Baghdad's tenuous security has been the aim of several past counterinsurgency operations - including one a year ago. That operation, code-named Lightning, failed to have any impact on the bombings, shootings and killings that have become daily fare in Baghdad.
In other violence reported by authorities on Thursday:
A woman and her daughter were wounded by a bomb Thursday morning as they were visiting the tome of the woman's son, who was killed in a June 4 sectarian attack against students in the volatile Diyala province. Iraqi forces then discovered the cemetery had been booby-trapped by insurgents.
Gunmen killed Dakhil Fadil, the Shiite head of the al-Deir municipality, firing more than 40 bullets into his body Wednesday evening.
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