http://apnews.myway.com/article/20040516/D82JRHQ80.html Iraqi General Urges Support of U.S. Troops May 16, 2:54 PM (ET) By KATARINA KRATOVAC 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. The siege of this city of 200,000 people, located about 40 miles west of Baghdad, was lifted when top Marine officers announced the creation of the Fallujah Brigade - a force made exclusively of former Iraqi army officers. The Marines withdrew from Fallujah into the rural hinterland and far-flung suburbs, allowing the Iraqi force to take up positions and start patrols inside the city. The brigade is expected to number about 1,500 men, many of them conscripts or noncommissioned officers under Saddam. They are expected to fight the guerrillas, although some of the same insurgents who fought the Marines last month will likely join the brigade. On Sunday, Marines of the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment provided security for the gathering in Kharma. 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." Latif also told the insurgents to "stop doing stupid things." "Those bullets that are fired will not get the Americans out, let them finish their job here so that they can return to their country," Latif said. "Our country is precious, stop allowing the bad guys to come from outside Iraq to destroy our country." Latif, a former military intelligence officer said to have been imprisoned by Saddam and exiled, praised the former Iraqi army. "The army used to be honest until Saddam made the men turn into beasts, take bribes, betray their own country," he said. "The real army is the army that works hard to serve its own citizens, with courage and strength." After the meeting, Latif told The Associated Press that the situation in Fallujah has greatly improved, that "winds of peace" prevail in the city and the people that fled the fighting have returned. He would not elaborate on the size or current activities of the Fallujah Brigade. "Let us speak about peace," Latif said in English. "Fallujah was an open wound, now it's healing."