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Former Iraqi Minister Expects Breakthrough in Talks With Insurgent Leaders

A former Iraqi minister says he is expecting a breakthrough in negotiations with the leaders of two insurgent groups, which he says are ready to lay down their arms and enter politics.

Aiham Alsammarae says the leaders of two insurgent groups, the Mujaheddin Army and the Islamic Army in Iraq, are close to appointing representatives, who will pave the way for opening talks with the government.

Both groups are known for a series of attacks on Iraqi and U.S. forces, some taking place in the past two weeks. Mr. Alsammarae cautions that the appointment of negotiators may not mean a complete cessation of hostilities, but he says it is still a huge step toward ending attacks by the groups. "There is a lot of examples in the world, there is some military arm and there is a political arm. I mean, you can see Ireland, and you see Hamas in Palestine, political guys, they can talk. As long as the political guy has no link with what [is] in the field going on, he can always talk freely, and trying, to the people, to reach them. This is very important for us right now to establish," he said.

Mr. Alsammarae says he first began his efforts to reach out to insurgents last November, when he was electricity minister in Iraq's previous government.

As a U.S. citizen, he says, he was asked by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to be part of an informal group that included representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. He says the group went to Syria's capital, Damascus, to meet officials from Saddam Hussein's Baathist government, who were resisting the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Mr. Alsammarae says nothing came of those meetings, except they made him known among the insurgency. Earlier this year, leaders of the Mujaheddin Army and the Islamic Army in Iraq contacted him to help them lay down their weapons and enter the world of politics.

And Mr. Alsammarae was happy to help. "Somebody has to do it. I'm going to do it, if this is breaking all the ice between the parties," he said.

The Islamic Army in Iraq has claimed responsibility for assassinations of Iraqi officials, and the murder of an Italian journalist and Pakistani contractors. It also held two French journalists hostage for four months last year. According to extremist Web sites, the group has, at times, collaborated with Iraq's al-Qaida network, headed by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Less is known about the Mujaheddin Army, but it has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks on U.S. forces.

Abu Musab Zarqawi (undated State Dept. photo)
Mr. Alsammarae said he is not aware of what attacks the groups have carried out. But he says the Iraqi government should be willing to talk with any Iraqi insurgent group, despite what it may have done. "You cannot solve any problem politically, if you keep bringing [up] the past. Because past is past, you have to start it from today. If, today, they are willing to talk, you have to talk with them," he said. " Probably Zarqawi is the only one we don't want to (talk to) him - all of us - for many reasons. One of them is that he's not Iraqi. Second, he is really killing everybody he captures. It looks like he doesn't have too much motive, except to scare everybody. So, this is not the one we are honored to talk with."

Mr. Alsammarae says U.S. and Iraqi officials are all aware of the negotiations he has held with insurgent leaders, and have given him positive signals to go on. Neither government has confirmed that. But speaking Tuesday, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said the government was open to talking with all Iraqis who were willing to lay down their weapons and join the political process.

Mr. Alsammarae admits his motives are not entirely altruistic. He is also seeking to return to government in elections scheduled for December.