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Iraq criticizes U.S. talks with armed groups
Fri Jul 24, 2009 3:46pm EDT
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By Mohammed Abbas
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq criticized the United States on Friday for holding talks with Iraqis that Baghdad describes as terrorists, delivering a rebuke to Washington as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visits the U.S. capital.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said U.S. officials, as part of efforts to end the insurgency in Iraq, had met with envoys from armed groups without notifying Iraqi authorities.
"There must be Iraqi government approval. Any action from any side, including the United States, without Iraqi government approval is not accepted," Dabbagh said, adding that Iraq rejected negotiations with "terrorists" and "killers."
He said Iraq was not committed to any deals U.S. officials had made with such opposition groups.
"Talks can only be with groups who renounce violence, disarm, and accept the current political process in Iraq."
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meetings took place several months ago with the knowledge of officials in the Iraqi government.
He described the meetings as part of a "broad dialogue that diplomatic and military officials have with a wide range of interested parties in Iraq."
"From our standpoint, clearly we have a great deal invested in the relationship between the United States and Iraq and we would do nothing to undercut that," Crowley told reporters.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who returned from a week-long trip to Asia on Friday, was set to meet Maliki later in the day in Washington.
In a TV interview last week, Ali al-Jubouri, an Iraqi identified as head of the Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance, said his Sunni Muslim group had held two rounds of talks with U.S. officials, one in March and one in May.
He said the United States had signed a deal recognizing his group, but negotiations had since broken down. The group's demands included a formal U.S. apology for the 2003 invasion, compensation and the release of all Iraqi prisoners.
Iraq's Shi'ite-led government believes the meetings were held in the presence of a Turkish official, and has asked for an explanation from Baghdad's U.S. and Turkish embassies.
"It was a shock. The (group) represents the remnants of the Baath party, supporters of the past regime and groups that adopt violence and terror as a means for change," Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told al-Hurra television on Thursday, referring to the party of Sunni Arab dictator Saddam Hussein.
Some Iraqi politicians have criticized Maliki, a one-time leader of the Shi'ite opposition to Saddam, for sidelining Sunnis politically under the guise of being tough on terrorism. Continued...
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