Tue, May 02, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Iraqi president optimistic on talks with insurgents

AP , BAGHDAD

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with representatives of seven armed groups and is optimistic they may agree to lay down their weapons, his office said. It was the first time a senior Iraqi official had acknowledged talks with insurgents.

However, Talabani did not identify the groups or specify when and where the meeting took place. The spokesman of one major insurgent group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, said on Sunday his organization had not taken part in such a meeting.

Last year Talabani offered to talk with insurgents but it was unclear if any took up the offer. US officials have acknowledged meeting Iraqis who had ties to Sunni Arab insurgents but not with representatives of those groups.

US diplomats have also cautioned that any such dialogue could take a long time to end the fighting because of divisions within insurgent ranks, which include Islamic extremists such as al-Qaeda in Iraq who show no sign of wanting to end their jihad, or holy war, against the US and their Iraqi partners.

It was also unclear whether the seven groups represented a substantial portion of the insurgency. Talabani also did not say whether the insurgents presented their own demands.

"I believe that a deal can be reached with the seven armed groups that visited me," Talabani was quoted as saying.

The statement said Talabani made the remarks on Saturday during a meeting with fellow Kurds in the Kurdish self-ruled region of northern Iraq.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has been anxious to establish a dialogue with insurgents except for Islamic extremists such as al-Qaeda in Iraq and former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein loyalists.

US officials believe a third faction -- mostly nationalistic Sunni Arabs -- might be willing to cut a deal if they feel Iraq's new national unity government serves their interests.

According to the statement, Talabani said al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had declared a "genocide against the Iraqi people."

"But there are groups other than the Saddamists and Zarqawists who joined armed operations to fight the occupation, and we are trying to establish a dialogue with them so they will join the political process," he said.

Talabani's security adviser, Lieutenant General Wafiq al-Samaraei told al-Arabiyah television that the dialogue was aimed at driving a wedge between religious zealots and other insurgents.

However, Ibrahim al-Shammari, the spokesman of the Islamic Army in Iraq, said his organization did not take part in a meeting but he did not say whether others did.

"Our strategic choice is to resist the occupation by armed force," al-Shammari told al-Jazeera television.

"We met neither the Americans, nor the US ambassador, nor with the [Iraqi] government because it is an illegal government with no credibility," he said.

US officials hope the new leadership of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds will manage to calm sectarian tensions and lure disaffected Sunni Arabs away from the insurgency. That would enable the US and its international partners to begin leaving Iraq.

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