For the first time, one of Iraq's principal insurgent groups has set out the terms of a ceasefire that would allow American and British forces to leave the country they invaded almost four years ago.
The present terms would be impossible for any US administration to meet - but the words of Abu Salih Al-Jeelani, one of the military leaders of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Resistance Movement show that the groups which have taken more than 3,000 American lives are actively discussing the opening of contacts with the occupation army.
Al-Jeelani's group, which also calls itself the "20th Revolution Brigades'', is the military wing of the original insurgent organisation that began its fierce attacks on US forces shortly after the invasion of 2003. The statement is, therefore, of potentially great importance, although it clearly represents only the views of Sunni Muslim fighters.
Shia militias are nowhere mentioned. The demands include the cancellation of the entire Iraqi constitution - almost certainly because the document, in effect, awards oil-bearing areas of Iraq to Shia and Kurds, but not to the minority Sunni community. Yet the Sunnis remain Washington's principal enemies in the Iraqi war.
"Discussions and negotiations are a principle we believe in to overcome the situation in which Iraqi bloodletting continues," al-Jeelani said in a statement that was passed to The Independent. "Should the Americans wish to negotiate their withdrawal from our country and leave our people to live in peace, then we will negotiate subject to specific conditions and circumstances."
Al-Jeelani suggests the United Nations, the Arab League or the Islamic Conference might lead such negotiations and would have to guarantee the security of the participants.
Then come the conditions:
* The release of 5,000 detainees held in Iraqi prisons as "proof of goodwill".
* Recognition "of the legitimacy of the resistance and the legitimacy of its role in representing the will of the Iraqi people".
* An internationally guaranteed timetable for all agreements.
* The negotiations to take place in public.
* The resistance "must be represented by a committee comprising the representatives of all the jihadist brigades".
* The US to be represented by its ambassador in Iraq and the most senior commander.
It is not difficult to see why the Americans would object to those terms. They will not want to talk to men they have been describing as "terrorists" for the past four years. And if they were ever to concede that the "resistance" represented "the will of the Iraqi people" then their support for the elected Iraqi government would have been worthless.
Indeed, the insurgent leader specifically calls for the "dissolution of the present government and the revoking of the spurious elections and the constitution..."
He also insists that all agreements previously entered into by Iraqi authorities or US forces should be declared null and void.
But there are other points which show that considerable discussion must have gone on within the insurgency movement - possibly involving the group's rival, the Iraqi Islamic Army.
They call, for example, for the disbandment of militias and the outlawing of militia organisations - something the US government has been urging the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to do for months.
The terms also include the legalisation of the old Iraqi army, an "Anglo-American commitment to rebuild Iraq and reconstruct all war damage" - something the occupying powers claim they have been trying to do for a long time - and integrating "resistance fighters" into the recomposed army.
Al-Jeelani described President George Bush's new plans for countering the insurgents as "political chicanery" and added that "on the field of battle, we do not believe that the Americans are able to diminish the capability of the resistance fighters to continue the struggle to liberate Iraq from occupation ...
"The resistance groups are not committing crimes to be granted a pardon by America, we are not looking for pretexts to cease our jihad... we fight for a divine aim and one of our rights is the liberation and independence of our land of Iraq."
There will, the group says, be no negotiations with Mr Maliki's government because they consider it "complicit in the slaughter of Iraqis by militias, the security apparatus and death squads". But they do call for the unity of Iraq and say they "do not recognise the divisions among the Iraqi people".
It is not difficult to guess any American response to those proposals. But FLN [National Liberation Front] contacts with France during the 1954-62 war of independence by Algeria began with such a series of demands - equally impossible to meet but which were eventually developed into real proposals for a French withdrawal.
What is unclear, of course, is the degree to which al-Jeelani's statement represents the collective ideas of the Sunni insurgents. And, ominously, no mention is made of al-Qa'ida.Reuse content