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Iraq: Resistance Ready To Talk -- But Only With The U.S.

Sunni official Taha al-Luhaybi speaking at a Baghdad press conference on 13 November (AFP) The self-described spokesperson for the Iraqi resistance, Ayham al-Samarra'i, told reporters in Baghdad over on 12 November that seven Iraqi resistance groups are ready to enter into dialogue with the United States in a bid to end the violence in Iraq. But resistance groups will not enter into talks with the Iraqi government, which has labeled them terrorist groups, he said. Al-Samarra'i is the head of the Independent Iraqis Grouping, and served as electricity minister in the interim government.

The groups' conditions for entering into talks are not likely to garner a positive reaction from the United States. According to a statement issued minutes before al-Samarra'i's 12 November press briefing, resistance groups have demanded an end to all military operations and the release of detainees; the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraqi cities, and the establishment of a timetable for the withdrawal for multinational forces from Iraq.

Another problematic issue is the refusal by the resistance to lay down their arms. The resistance "will continue to keep its weapons until peace and accord are established in the country," al-Samarra'i told Al-Arabiyah television on 12 November.

Talks Equal Weakness?

For Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari's government, the decision to negotiate with the so-called "resistance" groups could be the nail in the coffin of the Shi'ite leadership on the eve of next month's parliamentary elections. Al-Ja'fari's administration has already been criticized for its weak role in bringing security to Iraq, so any attempts to negotiation with insurgent groups would further diminish the prime minister's conservative Shi'ite Arab support base and potentially weaken the Shi'ite alliance's position ahead of the election.

Other Shi'ite leaders have attempted to bring Sunni Arab "resistance" fighters to the table in recent months, most notably, former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, al-Samarra'i's old boss. Allawi's campaign platform is based on national unity and an end to sectarian strife. The former head of the interim government spent most of the past eight months in talks with Sunni Arab leaders in Iraq and neighboring Arab states in an effort to bring Sunnis to the table.

Al-Samarra'i contended in an Al-Arabiyah television interview broadcast on 12 November that resistance groups were not interested in entering into talks with the Iraqi government, saying the resistance groups "believe the United States has the upper hand in Iraq," and therefore it must take the initiative by opening dialogue.

Which Resistance Groups?

Al-Samarra'i insisted however, that the seven resistance groups willing to come to the table are not terrorist groups, because they target occupation forces and not civilians. "The people who are resisting are doing so honorably to protect this country. The government must recognize them as legitimate representatives of the Iraqis," al-Samarra'i told Al-Arabiyah.

The former electricity minister claims that the seven groups -- which he refused to identify -- represent 90 to 95 percent of the resistance. He said attacks carried out by supporters of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi amount to only about 5 percent of all attacks.

Meanwhile, al-Samarra'i told the "Al-Zaman" newspaper that the resistance groups would participate in the 19 November Arab League-sponsored reconciliation conference in Cairo, the daily reported on 14 November. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa has also supported the participation of resistance groups at the Cairo talks. Iraqi government officials have said they will not enter into talks with any terrorist organizations.

The U.S. And The UN

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made separate trips to Iraq in recent days, giving the impression to observers that they might be pushing the government to accept the presence of resistance groups at the 19 November Arab League meeting. Both the United States and the UN would like to see any political progress that might help bring greater legitimacy to the December elections, which will lead to the formation of a four-year government.

Asked by reporters on 11 November about her view on which groups should be allowed to participate in the meeting, RFI reported that Rice said: "I would hope that those who participate in the Arab League events...will recognize that they are participating with an Iraqi government that has indeed been elected and that the Iraqi government that is elected after December will be even more representative. And so the lead on this really ought to be with the Iraqi government, and any people coming out of a period of tyranny, as the Iraqis have, and now out of a period of violence, have to find a balance between inclusion and reconciliation and justice. And that is a process that I'm sure the Iraqis themselves will lead."

Al-Ja'fari responded to the same question, telling reporters: "We will not accept at this conference becoming a platform for terrorism and for high-level Ba'athist officials from the former regime. But it should be big enough for all patriotic Iraqis who believe in the political process...."

Meanwhile, Annan told reporters on 12 November in Baghdad: "Reconciliation is absolutely vital in Iraq," adding the conference "aims at building a new future for the Iraqi people," RFI reported on the same day.

Annan also held talks with Sunni Arab leaders on 12 November. "The secretary-general promised us that the UN will help in reviewing the constitution in the coming phase. We also informed him that the Iraqis are very worried over...the possibility of seeing the same thing happen again during the upcoming elections, meaning that they will be rigged," Sunni Arab leader Salih al-Mutlaq told Al-Sharqiyah television on 13 November. "We demanded international supervision as well as judicial supervision over the elections. Moreover, we called for injecting fresh blood into the IECI [Independent Iraqi Electoral Commission] and replacing the heads of ballot centers in the governorates."

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