Iraqi officials plan to meet with rebel leaders

Posted in Iraq | 26-Nov-04 | Author: Edward Wong| Source: International Herald Tribune

G.I.'s aided a wounded American soldier on Thursday after insurgents opened fire on the unit during searches in Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad.
BAGHDAD The Iraqi foreign minister said Thursday that the interim government planned to meet soon with rebel leaders to try and persuade the leaders to take part in legitimate politics here.

The remarks by the minister, Hoshyar Zebari, signaled the first time the government has agreed to an official summit with leaders of the insurgency. Zebari did not give a date for the meeting or specify which rebel leaders might attend.

He said Iraqi officials agreed to the meeting, which would take place in Amman, Jordan, after being asked by various diplomats at a conference in Egypt to open a dialogue with the resistance.

"The aim is really to reach out to as many people as possible both inside and outside" of Iraq, Zebari said at a news conference in the Foreign Ministry.

The government welcomes "the broader participation of Iraqis, even those who are oppositionists, in this process" of politics "if they renounce violence and terror," he said.

The rebel leaders who will be invited will be "some people who are of political and tribal backgrounds," he said, declining to elaborate further.

American and Iraqi officials say much of the insurgency is being financed by wealthy loyalists to Saddam Hussein who fled to bordering countries in the run-up to the American invasion in March 2003.

Many are believed to be operating from Syria and Jordan, helping to organize the insurgency from there and funneling millions of dollars to the ground troops of the rebellion.

Violence surged in central and northern Iraq on Thursday, as three car bombs exploded in Samarra, killing two people and wounding 14 others, and a series of blasts rocked central Baghdad in the wintry evening.

A plume of dark smoke rose from the western end of the bridge that spans the Tigris River and leads to the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the offices of the interim Iraqi government and the American Embassy. Police officers in the area did not report any casualties and said they had no immediate information on what caused the bombings.

The Iraqi national security adviser, Kassim Daoud, said that a senior aide to the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been arrested in the city of Mosul, 360 kilometers, or 225 miles, north of Baghdad. Daoud said the man's nom de guerre was Abu Said and that he was picked up after people in the area informed on him. Daoud did not give any further information, and U.S. military officials in Mosul said they knew nothing of the arrest.

Daoud's announcement lends further evidence to the theory that Zarqawi may have set up a base of operations in Mosul after leaving Falluja sometime before the American offensive that began there on Nov. 8.

A classified report written by Marine intelligence officers in the final days of the offensive suggested that Zarqawi may have relocated to Mosul, a city of two million that has emerged as one of the biggest problems for the Americans. Hundreds of insurgents stormed and looted a half-dozen police stations in Mosul on Nov. 11, spurring 3,200 of the city's 4,000 police officers to abandon their jobs.

Since then, the city has remained unstable, with dozens of Iraqi bodies, most or all believed to be security officers, turning up in various parts of the city. American military officials said on Thursday that two more bodies had been discovered. Some of the victims have been beheaded and others have been executed with gunshots to the head.

An American-led offensive continued immediately south of Baghdad, in an insurgent hotbed along the Euphrates River dubbed the "triangle of death." The U.S. military said Thursday that American, British and Iraqi forces had rounded up 81 suspected insurgents near the restive town of Yusufiya.

The offensive began Tuesday, when thousands of troops began sweeping through the hostile region, a place of lush farmland, impoverished villages and opulent residential compounds built by Saddam loyalists.