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Iraqi Officials Confirm Talks Held Abroad With Ba'athists, Insurgents

BAGHDAD -- Iraqi officials say they have met with Ba'athists and insurgent groups in neighboring countries recently in an effort to reintegrate them into the political process, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Abdel Halim Ahmad, a spokesman for the cabinet's reconciliation committee, told RFI that "the ministry of national dialogue has held talks with insurgent groups in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Syria while the reconciliation committee's chairman has met in Damascus with Ba'athist groups that expressed a willingness to lay down their arms and join the political process."

Ahmad added that some of the Ba'athists who took part in the negotiations vowed to return to Iraq and "lines of communication are still open with them," stressing that the Iraqi government's sole condition is for these people and groups to renounce violence.

Deputy National Dialogue Minister Saad al-Muttalibi told RFI that meetings have indeed been held with Ba'athists "but those were individuals without real influence and much more important is the accommodation reached with armed groups that have laid down their arms to embrace the political process, thus contributing to national unity and improved security."

Al-Muttalibi declined to name the groups, saying "from the very outset they asked not to reveal their names or ranks for their own reasons."

Rashid al-Azzawi, a member of the parliament's Accountability and Justice Committee, told RFI that former Ba'athists who have helped build up Iraq's new security agencies and those who have joined the political process from the beginning should not be barred or disqualified from taking part in any political process.

He said only those convicted of crimes are covered by de-Ba'athification.

Al-Azzawi said "this is the only way out of the ongoing controversy" over a government commission's decision to ban hundreds of candidates and parties from contesting the March 7 national elections.

Salman al-Jumaili, a member of parliament in former Premier Ayad al-Allawi's Iraqi List bloc, told RFI that "a lesson should be learned from the Kurdish
leaders when they reintegrated former Kurdish Ba'athists who were high-ranking Ba'ath Party officials and even ministers under the former regime [of Saddam Hussein] and are now members of the Kurdish parliamentary bloc."

A government committee tasked with vetting candidates has banned 511 politicians and some parties from running in the upcoming elections, raising fears of inflaming sectarian tensions.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has discussed this issue via phone with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shi'ite, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni.