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U.S. Holds Secret Talks With Insurgents in Iraq

Magazine Cites Meetings With Sunnis

Monday, February 21, 2005; Page A22

U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers are conducting secret talks with Iraq's Sunni insurgents on ways to end fighting there, Time magazine reported yesterday, citing Pentagon and other sources.

The Bush administration has said it would not negotiate with Iraqi fighters and there is no authorized dialogue, but the United States is having "back-channel" communications with certain insurgents, unidentified Washington and Iraqi sources told the magazine.

The magazine cited a secret meeting between two members of the U.S. military and an Iraqi negotiator, a former member of Saddam Hussein's government and the senior representative of what he called the nationalist insurgency.

A U.S. officer tried to get names of other insurgent leaders while the Iraqi complained that the new Shiite-dominated government was being controlled by Iran, according to an account of the meeting provided by the Iraqi negotiator.

"We are ready to work with you," the Iraqi negotiator said, according to Time.

Iraqi insurgent leaders not aligned with al Qaeda ally Abu Musab Zarqawi told the magazine that several nationalist groups composed of what the Pentagon calls "former regime elements" have become open to negotiating.

The insurgents said their aim was to establish a political identity that can represent disenfranchised Sunnis.

The White House had no immediate comment on the report.

When asked about the contacts, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate foreign relations and intelligence committees, said it is important to "reach out" in Iraq.

"We've got a very complicated and dangerous situation over there, and you are going to have to reach out, you are going to have to develop some relationships and networks," he said on CNN's "Late Edition."

Controversial Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi told ABC's "This Week" yesterday that any deals between insurgents and the U.S. military would not be binding on a new Iraqi government.

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