By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 8, 2005
BAGHDAD, June 7 -- A former minister in Iraq's interim government said Tuesday that the leaders of two insurgent groups were prepared to discuss conditions for ending their campaign of attacks.
Aiham Alsammarae, who was electricity minister under the former government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, said the groups, which he identified as the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Mujaheddin Army, were willing to enter negotiations with U.S. and Iraqi officials.
He said he initiated a dialogue with the groups and had held at least 10 meetings with their leaders in the past four months in his Baghdad home.
"We told them, if you keep shooting without saying what you demand, you are going to be always a target," he said in an interview. "Now the government can sit with them and see what they need. If they want to deal with the security situation, this is a chance."
Alsammarae's account of the reconciliation talks could not be independently verified. He said he had broached the subject with U.S. officials here and in Washington during a visit there last month, as well as with the Iraqi government.
"We've met with him in the past, and we welcome any Iraqi who wants to encourage dialogue and political participation and reconciliation in Iraq and who promotes the concept of rejecting violence as a political tool," said a U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad who spoke on condition he not be named. "This is a matter to be discussed with the Iraqi transitional government," he added.
Laith Kubba, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, said that in recent months, the government had made preliminary contact with representatives of some insurgent groups. But he said he was unaware of Alsammarae's proposal. "I have not heard from him or any group he represents," Kubba said.
A Sunni Muslim and a citizen of both Iraq and the United States, where he attended college and spent several years in exile in the 1990s, Alsammarae said he leads a new, predominantly Sunni political group called the Iraqi National Council Front.
The insurgency is believed to be made up largely of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority. Alsammarae said he focused his reconciliation efforts on Iraqi-led insurgent groups, rather than foreign Arab fighters such as Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian who leads the group al Qaeda in Iraq.
Asked what the insurgent groups wanted, he said their demands would include a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and steps to reduce the influence of neighboring Iran, whose Shiite Muslim-led government has close ties to Iraq's new leaders.
Alsammarae said he had also spoken with representatives of the Iraqi-led Ansar al-Sunna Army, an insurgent group that has asserted responsibility for a number of kidnappings, assassinations and car bombings. The group's tactics are too similar to Zarqawi's for it to be included in negotiations, he said.