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Iraq: Amman Talks Could Bring Political Breakthrough

(RFE/RL) NEW YORK, November 3, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi officials held meetings this week in Amman, Jordan, with representatives from at least a dozen Iraqi resistance groups, including former Ba'athists, in the hopes of bringing them into the political process. The talks, held on October 29-30, have been seen as a precursor to a national reconciliation conference slated to be held next month in Baghdad.

Media reports indicated that U.S. officials and members of the resistance also held bilateral talks in Amman this week, generating considerable optimism that the talks may bring a reduction to the bloodshed.

Hopes For Breakthrough

Arriving on the heels of the Mecca conference in Saudi Arabia on October 20, the Amman talks were aimed at arriving at agreements to curb violence, as well as to steer Iraqi resistance groups and opposition figures into the political process under the idea of Iraqi national reconciliation.

The Iraqi opposition also issued several demands, namely, setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign forces, ending arbitrary attacks and raids on houses and cities, and the release of Iraqi prisoners held in U.S.-run detention centers. Furthermore, they called for the elimination of all militias, canceling the law dissolving the Ba'ath Party, and restoring the rights of those who were dismissed from their jobs after the fall of the Hussein regime in 2003, international media reported.

Sources close to the talks told Jordan's "Al-Ghadd" on October 30 that the success of these talks would create enough momentum to push the political process forward.

"Iraq as a whole is counting on the success of these contacts and talks in terms of building a new free and democratic Iraq, and in terms of putting an end to the vortex of violence, which has resulted in the death and injury of thousands of Iraqis," one source said.

In addition, Iraqi officials indicated that unlike earlier talks, these discussions offered all resistance groups, including the Ba'athists, an opportunity to enter the political process. A leading member of the government delegation to the talks, Shi'ite parliamentarian Falih al-Fayyad, told the daily: "The talks target Iraqi political forces that are opposed to and in support of the government." Adding, "We have no reservations whatsoever in this regard, even if those participating are Ba'athists."

The prospects for assimilating the resistance groups into the political process seemed good after al-Fayyad announced that the national reconciliation conference, slated to begin on November 4, will be postponed until the middle of the month to allow more time for a dialogue with members of the Iraqi opposition, Jordan's "Al-Ra'y" reported on October 31. Al-Fayyad's statements suggest that the meetings were succeeding in opening up a frank and serious dialogue with the resistance groups.

Al-Fayyad said the talks were aimed at "paving the way for the reconciliation conference and creating the appropriate climate for rendering it successful; the aim is not to make specific decisions now, but rather to discuss various issues in a frank and open manner without putting any restrictions on introducing any problems or issues to the agenda."

Talking To The Ba'athists

It is difficult to determine whether the Amman talks will lead to anything tangible or whether they will be viewed as just another empty meeting. The inclusion of the Ba'athists is important and underscores the Iraqi government's earnest intentions to reach out to all opposition groups, except those linked to terrorist groups. Previous attempts at opening a dialogue with the Iraqi resistance excluded the Ba'athists, after objections by lawmakers who were wary of the Ba'athists' checkered past during the Hussein regime and fears that they might regain too much influence.

Furthermore, the Ba'athists' inclusion in the dialogue may drive a deeper wedge between the domestic insurgency and Al-Qaeda and create a counterweight to the rising influence of Al-Qaeda in the Sunni heartland.

Salih al-Mutlaq of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue warned earlier this week that Sunni Arabs have become radicalised by the brutal tactics of the U.S. military and have become disillusioned by the mainstream insurgency, Reuters reported on October 29. As a result, many have turned to Al-Qaeda and have been filling its ranks. Political inclusion of the Ba'athists could steer disillusioned Sunnis away from Al-Qaeda and renew hope in the political process.

U.S. Role As Mediator

Conversely, reports of talks between Iraqi resistance groups and the United States, while not new, indicate a greater willingness by those in the resistance to lay down arms. Moreover, because many armed groups refuse to engage in talks with the current Iraqi government, it is crucial that the United States act as mediator. The United States could play a major role in forging a negotiated settlement between the resistance and the government.

In an interview posted on the Internet on October 5, the alleged spokesman for the Islamic Army in Iraq, Ibrahim al-Shammari, said the insurgent group would be willing to enter negotiations with the United States if certain conditions were met. The London-based "Quds Press" reported on November 2 that the armed group will meet with U.S. officials in Amman on November 9.

The success of those talks will rest largely on the United States' ability to convince the Islamic Army and other resistance groups of the need to recognize the post-Hussein political environment. The "Quds Press" report indicated that members of the resistance still see no role for the Shi'a in Iraq. The report quoted "sources" as saying Iraq has two key players only: the national resistance and the occupation forces.

Finally, many of the same demands the resistance groups stated in the Amman talks were previously mentioned in the reconciliation conference held in Cairo under the sponsorship of the Arab League in 2005.

The final communique called for the withdrawal of foreign troops, the release of innocent prisoners, and stressed resistance as the legitimate right for all people. However, three months later, Iraq was plunged into its current state of sectarian strife by the bombing of the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra in February. Thus, Iraqis may be somewhat skeptical about the Amman talks and the reconciliation process as a whole.

Reactions To The Samarra Attack

Reactions To The Samarra Attack
Demonstrators in Baghdad on February 23 (epa)

Iraqi religious and government leaders, as well as international officials, condemned the February 22 bomb attack that wrecked the Golden Mosque, a major Shi'ite Muslim shrine in Samarra. Below is a selection of statements on the incident.

"This new ugly crime comes as a warning that there is a conspiracy against the Iraqi people to spark a war among brothers. God willing, we will not allow this.... We must cooperate and work together against this danger, the danger of civil war. This is the fiercest danger because it threatens our unity and our country with a devastating civil war." -- Iraqi President Jalal Talabani

"The timing of this crime indicates that one of its aims is to stall the political process and to hamper the negotiations on the formation of a national-unity government." -- President Talabani

"I announce on this occasion three days of mourning. I hope our heroic people will take more care on this occasion to bolster Islamic unity and protect Islamic brotherhood and Iraqi national brotherhood." -- Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari

"Oh honorable people of Samarra! We should stand as one, united in confronting terrorism.... This assault is an assault on all Muslims." -- Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabur

"They will fail to draw the Iraqi people into civil war as they have failed in the past." -- Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i

"If the security systems are unable to secure necessary protection, the believers are able to do so with the might of God." -- Shi'ite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

"We will not only condemn and protest but we will act against those militants. If the Iraqi government does not do its job to defend the Iraqi people we are ready to do so." -- Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, speaking through spokesman Abdel Hadi al-Darajee

(compiled by Reuters)

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