Iraq rebels may quit, president says

Talabani alleges he and U.S. officials met Sunnis who'd swap violence for politics

May 01, 2006|By BRUCE WALLACE

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's president says he and U.S. officials have met with leaders of seven of the country's armed insurgent groups and believe they can be persuaded to end their rebellion, according to a summary of remarks released yesterday by his office.

President Jalal Talabani told a gathering of Iraqi and Arab intellectuals during a Kurdish cultural festival Saturday that he believes that some of the Sunni Arab insurgents waging a bloody guerrilla war against U.S. forces and the Iraqi government can be persuaded to swap violence for a role in the political process.

"I think that it is possible to reach agreements with seven armed organizations which have visited me," Talabani said, according to a transcript of his remarks.

He did not identify the groups or say when the meetings took place, but he did say that U.S. political officials had been involved.

Previously, Bush administration officials have acknowledged holding indirect discussions with some of the Sunni groups fighting the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq.

Talabani, a former Kurdish guerrilla who for years battled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, did not suggest that a deal would end the violence in Iraq.

But many here say they believe that the first step toward reducing the carnage is to isolate such foreign Islamic radicals as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who refers to himself as the prince of al-Qaida in Iraq, from nationalist Iraqi Sunnis employing violence in an effort to win back power in a country in which the Shiite Arab majority is the dominant political force.

"The Zarqawi-ists have declared a genocidal war against the Iraqi people," Talabani said. "But there are groups other than the [predominantly Sunni Hussein loyalists] and the Zarqawi-ists who have joined the armed action on the basis of ousting the occupier, and those are the ones we are seeking to conduct dialogue with and to bring them into the political process."

Suggestions that Talabani was poised to strike a deal with insurgent groups were immediately challenged by Ibrahim Shammari, spokesman for the Islamic Army in Iraq, who denied that his militant group had met with Talabani or any U.S. officials.

"Our strategic choice is to resist the occupation by armed force," Shammari told Al-Jazeera television, according to the Qatar-based Arab satellite news channel's Web site. "We neither met the Americans, nor the U.S. ambassador, nor with the government because it is an illegal government with no credibility."

U.S. and Iraqi officials have been struggling to draw the country's disparate religious and ethnic groups into a national unity government. Iraq's new leaders have yet to agree on a power-sharing arrangement that would divide key ministries -- including defense, domestic security, oil and foreign affairs -- among competing blocs.

Negotiations continued yesterday, but no agreement was expected for at least a few days. Iraqi officials announced that they would convene parliament Wednesday, if only to demonstrate to a weary and frazzled country that they are capable of action.

"The Iraqi people are wondering why parliament is not holding any sessions despite the many issues to be discussed," said Abbas Bayati, a prominent lawmaker in the Shiite bloc. "The parliament will convene to discuss many hot issues facing society. It is not justified for the parliament to wait for the government to be formed."

Continued violence underscored the urgency of establishing a functioning government. An official of the Ministry of Commerce was shot to death yesterday as he drove through a Baghdad neighborhood, and a bomb exploded on a minibus in Baghdad, injuring six people.

Three Western contractors were killed when their convoy was attacked on a perilous stretch of highway south of the capital.

Continuing clashes between U.S. forces and gunmen in Ramadi, 60 miles west of the capital, left at least two civilian bystanders dead, a hospital official said.

An armed incursion across the border in northern Iraq by Iranian forces underscored the dangers that a chaotic Iraq poses to a combustible region. The Iranians fired more than 180 artillery shells and pursued Kurdish rebels across the mountainous border, Iraq's Ministry of Defense said yesterday.

No clear casualty figures were immediately available, but Kurdish officials said eight fighters belonging to Kurdish groups fighting Turkey and Iran were reportedly killed.

Bruce Wallace writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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