- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2005

LONDON — Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has ruled out talks with any terrorist or insurgent group that has the blood of Iraqi citizens on its hands.

But, in a recent interview, Mr. al-Jaafari also held out an olive branch to other hard-line anti-government and anti-American militants whose opposition had not led to the deaths of Iraqis.

“We cannot make dialogue with anyone who has committed crimes against the Iraqi people,” he said in London, after visits to Britain and the United States.

At the same time, Mr. al-Jaafari said he would welcome bringing hard-line Sunni groups into a political dialogue and even into his government.

“If they have not committed crimes against the Iraqi people, we open our hearts to them, and we are [already] in honest and genuine dialogue with them,” he said.

He added: “We invite them to be part of the political process — to exchange the gun for the pen.”

The London Sunday Times reported on June 26 that insurgent commanders “apparently came face to face” with four U.S. officials during meetings last month at a villa some 25 miles north of Baghdad.

When asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about the report of the two meetings, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said: “Oh, I would doubt it. I think there have probably been many more than that.”

Three militant groups distanced themselves from the reports, denying they had ever negotiated, and in a Web site-posted communique, one group, Ansar al-Sunna, said it did not speak to Americans, it killed them.

It added that, even when the American forces leave, their associates in the Iraqi government would remain in Iraq and would be targeted.

Mr. Rumsfeld appeared to suggest that American meetings with hard-liners were designed to help the Iraqi interim administration headed by Mr. al-Jaafari.

“We see the government of Iraq is sovereign. They are the ones that are reaching out to the people who are not supporting the government,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Yet Mr. al-Jaafari’s line of willingness to negotiate appeared to be drawn far more stringently than that suggested by Mr. Rumsfeld.

Mr. al-Jaafari said that support for terrorist bombings and other atrocities was already waning and would decline further as more Sunni factions joined the government or forswore violence.

He said the advancement of the political process, and especially the announcement of a new constitution and a subsequent election in December, would dampen violence further.

Aides said the new government was determined to implement the agreed timetable for that election, irrespective of the degree of violence prevalent in Iraq at the time.

The prime minister said it was also politically important to put former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein on trial quickly and to reach a rapid conviction and an imposition of the sentence passed by the court.

He dismissed suggestions that the trial, and especially a death sentence, could inflame passions and increase terrorism.

“It will definitely reduce the amount of violence, ” Mr. al-Jaafari said.

He also rejected any suggestion that the country’s president, currently Jalal Talabani, the veteran Kurdish leader, would exercise a prerogative to commute a death sentence.

Mr. Talabani had told an interviewer several weeks ago that he was opposed to capital punishment, even for Saddam, though he added: “I know I am in a minority of one in the current government.”

Mr. al-Jaafari said Iraq wanted to act as a democracy and to ensure that any verdict reached by the court or tribunal was carried out without executive intervention.

“Saddam has to pay for his crimes,” Mr. al-Jaafari said.

The prime minister is planning trips to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria in efforts to tighten border controls and reduce meddling by neighboring states.

He told The Washington Times last week that he expects violence to abate well within the next two years.

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