US officials held secret talks with militants in Iraq

Independent - Bangledesh

June 26, 2005


June 26: US officials recently held secret talks in Iraq with the commanders of several Iraqi insurgent groups in an effort to open a dialogue with them, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Sunday Times said the commanders "apparently came face to face" with four American officials during meetings on June 3 and June 13 at a summer villa near Balad, about 40 miles (25 miles) north of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

The report, which quoted unidentified Iraqi sources, said the insurgent groups at the first meeting included Ansar al-Sunnah, which has carried out suicide bombings in Iraq and killed 22 people in the dining hall of a US base at Mosul last Christmas.

Two others were Mohammed's Army and the Islamic Army in Iraq, which in August reportedly killed Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni, the newspaper said.

One of the Americans at the talks introduced himself as a Pentagon representative and declared himself ready to "find ways of stopping the bloodshed on both sides and to listen to demands and grievances," The Sunday Times said.

It said the official indicated that the results of the talks would be relayed to his superiors in Washington.

The US officials tried to gather intelligence information about the structure, leadership and operations of the insurgent groups, which irritated some of their members, the report said.

The insurgents had been told that the talks would consider theirmain demand, a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, The Sunday Times said.

During the June 13 talks, the US officials demanded that two other insurgent groups, the 1920 Revolution and the Majhadeen Shoura Council, cut any ties they have with the country's most-feared insurgent group, al-Qaida in Iraq.

The Sunday Times said neither the Iraqi government nor US officials in Baghdad would confirm its report about the talks.

However, on June 7, Iraq's former electricity minister, Ayham al-Samarie, told The Associated Press that two insurgent groups-the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Army of Mujahedeen - were willing to negotiate with the Iraqi government, possibly opening a new political front in the war-torn country.

Al-Samarie, a Sunni Muslim, said he had established contact with the groups which account for a large part of the Sunni insurgents and were responsible for attacks against Iraqis and foreigners, including assassinations and kidnappings. It was the first public disclosure that such negotiations with specific groups might be in the offing, but independent confirmation was not possible. Iraq's government declined comment at the time. A senior Shiite legislator, Hummam Hammoudi, also told the AP recently that the Iraqi government had opened indirect channels of communication with some insurgent groups.

The contacts were "becoming more promising and they give us reason to continue," Hammoudi said, without providing details.

US and Iraqi officials also are considering amnesty for their enemies as they look for ways to end the country's rampant insurgency and isolate extremists wanting to start a civil war.

Negotiations have begun between US and Iraqi officials on drafting an amnesty policy, which would reach out to Iraqi militants fighting US forces, according to American and Iraqi officials.