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Iraqi Officials: No Negotiations with Armed Militias - 2004-10-07

While Iraq's interim government has accepted an initiative from an armed militia group to give up its weapons and quit fighting, a senior interim government official says there were never any negotiations with the group. The official said the government "has not, and will never" negotiate with armed militias.

Several news reports suggest Iraq's interim government was actively involved in negotiations with militia members to hand over their weapons in the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City.

But the senior adviser to Iraq's Interior Ministry, Sabah Kadhim, says the interim government has never negotiated with militias. Instead, he said the interim government has made clear what the militias must do in order to resolve armed conflicts in areas where militias have seized control.

"If they give up the weapons, and the undesirables will move out of the area, and the police will then restore order and continue to do so, well, that to us seems to be the way forward, as we have done in Najaf and Samarra," Mr. Kadhim said.

Mr. Kadhim said it would be unrealistic to try to negotiate in earnest because, he said, there are many different armed militias and groups, with different factions within those groups.

"Really, we do not negotiate," Mr. Kadhim said. "The word negotiate is very much used by the media as well as the al-Sadr people. For example, they talk about a cease-fire. We have no cease-fire. We have no cease-fire because there is no party, a unit you are dealing with. You are dealing with a variety of people, some with good intentions and want to settle the matter."

Mr. Kadhim says mediators representing militia members approached the interim government saying they were willing to hand over their weapons and return Sadr City to the control of the police. Mr. Kadhim says the interim government simply accepted their decision without any negotiation. He said diplomatic efforts are not being used when it comes to the issue of armed militias. He said they must hand over their weapons and quit fighting or face certain military action.

Fighting between coalition troops and members of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army has plagued Sadr City in recent weeks.

The interim government is trying to clear the way for open elections in January, and Sadr City, along with other militia-held areas like Fallujah, west of Baghdad, are on a list of cities the interim government has said it intends to reclaim militarily.