Iraq president, U.S. talk with rebels

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq’s president says he and U.S. officials have met with leaders of seven of the country’s armed insurgent groups and believe they can be persuaded to end their rebellion, according to a statement released by his office Sunday.

President Jalal Talabani told a gathering of Iraqi and Arab intellectuals during a Kurdish cultural festival Saturday that he thinks some of the Sunni Arab insurgents now waging a bloody guerrilla war against U.S. forces and the Iraqi government can be persuaded to swap violence for a role in the political process.

“I think that it is possible to reach agreements with seven armed organizations which have visited me,” Talabani said, according to transcript of his remarks.

He did not identify the groups or say when the meetings took place, but he did say U.S. political officials had been involved.

Administration officials have previously acknowledged holding indirect meetings with some of the Iraqi Sunni groups fighting the U.S. occupation.

Talabani, himself a former Kurdish guerrilla warrior who for years battled against now-ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, did not suggest that a deal would end the violence plaguing Iraq. But many here say they believe the first step toward reducing the carnage is to isolate such foreign Islamic radicals as Abu Musab al-Zarqzawi, who leads al-Qaida in Iraq.

“The Zarqawis have declared a genocidal war against the Iraqi people,” Talabani said.

“But there are groups other than the (predominately Sunni Hussein loyalists) and the Zarqawis who have joined the armed action on the basis of ousting the occupier, and those are the ones we are seeking to conduct dialogue with and to bring them into the political process.”

Suggestions that Talabani was poised to strike a deal with insurgent groups were immediately challenged by Ibrahim Shammari, spokesman of the Islamic Army in Iraq, who denied that his militant group had met Talabani or any U.S. officials.

“Our strategic choice is to resist the occupation by armed force,” Shammari told Al-Jazeera television, according to its Web site. “We neither met the Americans, nor the U.S. ambassador, nor with the government because it is an illegal government with no credibility.”

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