apnews link FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) - A former Saddam Hussein-era general appointed by the Americans to lead an Iraqi security force in the rebellious Sunni stronghold of Fallujah urged tribal elders and sheiks Sunday to support U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq. Retired Maj. Gen. Mohammed Abdul-Latif rose to prominence after nearly monthlong battles last month between the Marines monthlong battles in April between the Marines and insurgents hunkered down in Fallujah's neighborhoods. "We can make them (Americans) use their rifles against us or we can make them build our country, it's your choice," Latif told a gathering of more than 40 sheiks, city council members and imams in an eastern Fallujah suburb. Latif, 66, a native of Baghdad, urged the elders to talk freely, citing the Muslim holy book, the Quran. "The Quran says we should sit together, discuss and make a decision, but let it be the right decision," the silver-haired Latif - a slim figure wearing a blue shirt and dark blue tie and pants - told the sheiks. The venue offered a rare insight into Latif's interactions and influence over Fallujah elders. As he spoke, many sheiks nodded in approval and listened with reverence to his words. Later, they clasped his hands and patted Latif on the back. Latif, speaking in Arabic to the sheiks, defended the Marines and the U.S. occupation of Iraq. "They were brought here by the acts of one coward who was hunted out of a rathole - Saddam - who disgraced us all," Latif said. "Let us tell our children that these men (U.S. troops) came here to protect us. "As President Bush said, they did not come here to occupy our land but to get rid of Saddam. We can help them leave by helping them do their job, or we can make them stay ten years and more by keeping fighting." Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, the Marine battalion commander, said, "No truer words have been spoken here today than those by General Latif."