- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2006

BAGHDAD — A senior U.S. diplomat said in an interview aired yesterday that the United States had shown “arrogance” and “stupidity” in Iraq but is ready to talk with any group except al Qaeda in Iraq to help achieve national reconciliation.

In an interview with Al Jazeera television broadcast late in the day, Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, offered an unusually candid assessment of the U.S. role in Iraq.

“We tried to do our best, but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq,” Mr. Fernandez said.

“We are open to dialogue because we all know that, at the end of the day, the solution to the hell and the killings in Iraq is linked to an effective Iraqi national reconciliation,” he said, speaking in Arabic from Washington. “The Iraqi government is convinced of this.”

It was not clear whether Mr. Fernandez was telegraphing a major shift in U.S. policy in Iraq, but his remarks were aired the same day President Bush huddled with top military commanders.

Mr. Bush said he would make “every necessary change” in tactics to try to control spiraling violence in Iraq.

Three U.S. Marines were killed in combat in Anbar province, the military said, making October the deadliest month for American forces in Iraq this year.

The deaths raised the October toll to 78, surpassing the previous high figure of 76 in April and putting October — with more than a week left — on course to be the deadliest month for American service members in two years.

A dozen mortar rounds rained down on an outdoor market crowded with holiday shoppers, killing at least 18 persons in a Shi’ite-dominated city that was the scene of a deadly market assault earlier this year, police said.

The mortar attack in Mahmoudiyah took place soon after bombs hidden in plastic bags and left on five bicycles ripped through the market, crowded with shoppers ahead of the upcoming Eid al-Fitr holiday, police Lt. Hayder Satar said.

Lt. Satar said at least 18 were killed and 52 injured in the attack on the city about 20 miles south of Baghdad.

Earlier, gunfights broke out in Hamza al-Gharbi, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, after a bomb exploded near the offices of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a leading Shi’ite political party that sponsors the Badr Brigades militia.

The party’s supporters accused members of the Mahdi Army headed by the radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr of being behind the blast, police Capt. Muthana Khalid Ali said.

He said Iraqi army and police called for reinforcements and backup from American forces, who imposed a curfew. There was no immediate confirmation of U.S. involvement from a military spokesman.

Southeast in the city of Amarah, where the Mahdi Army briefly took control Friday, shops and government offices reopened and Iraqi army units manned checkpoints, keeping the militia fighters off the streets.

U.S. forces said they killed a key coordinator of foreign fighters under al Qaeda in Iraq in an early morning raid in Ramadi, on a booby-trapped building in the heartland of the Sunni insurgency west of Baghdad.

The military said the man, who was not identified by name, had been a senior leader of al Qaeda in Iraq responsible for providing weapons and financing to foreign fighters in the country, as well as producing and distributing video clips and other propaganda.

The violence occurred despite an accord signed a day earlier between Sunni and Shi’ite religious leaders from Iraq, who were meeting in the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Organizers say they aim only to stop sectarian killings between rival Sunnis and Shi’ites, rather than impose a truce to halt attacks against U.S. forces.

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