19 Feb. Los Angeles Times - Rebels' Arsenal Includes Politics.

Once viewed as a series of scattered cells with unfocused goals, Iraqi insurgents have begun to develop a coordinated political agenda, reaching out to Sunni Arab politicians and distancing themselves from foreign fighters whose attacks against civilians have alienated possible allies in a new government.

The political engagement is still in its nascent stage, and there is no sign that extreme factions of the insurgency, including those led by foreign Islamists such as Abu Musab Zarqawi, have shown any willingness to cease operations. But there are signs that certain segments of the insurgency may be refraining from attacks to give counterparts in the political arena time to promote their agenda: setting a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal and preventing the division of Iraq into federal regions.

The number of insurgent attacks has dropped to about 70 a day from about 100 a day last summer and fall, according to the U.S. military.

The size and scale of attacks against civilians also have declined precipitously. This year there were virtually no attacks on Shiite Muslims celebrating the holiday of Ashura, compared with last year and 2004, when suicide bombers killed dozens of pilgrims.

Such attacks could have undermined efforts to persuade the Shiite government to make concessions to Sunnis...