Monday, May 21, 2007

Brits Conducting Secret Negotiations With Iraqi Insurgents

We have previously discussed the U.S. military and OGA's secret talks with Iraqi insurgent groups (see inter alia, Details of High-Level US Talks With Iraqi Insurgent Groups Revealed and US Talks With Iraqi Insurgents Confirmed).

Our British allies were always assumed to be at least peripherally involved with the effort. Now the Brits are reported to be taking the lead along these lines after the U.S.-led initiative didn't make the desired progress.

Britain is holding secret talks with leading insurgents in Iraq with the aim of dividing them from Al-Qaeda in a new drive to curb sectarian violence.

Dominic Asquith, the British ambassador to Baghdad, is said to have been coordinating the talks over recent months, along with other British representatives believed to be from MI6.

Details of the initiative, which followed the failure of similar talks between insurgents and American officials, emerged yesterday as Tony Blair visited Iraq.

Middle Eastern sources said extensive talks between insurgents and British officials were under way. Some had taken place in private houses in the Kurdish north of Iraq, others outside the country, they said.

"Apart from Al-Qaeda, all the main insurgent groups took part," claimed a Kurdish source close to the discussions. "Representatives of the groups have met with the British several times in recent months."

According to this source, the participants have included the Islamic Mujahidin, the 1920 Revolutionary Brigades and a faction led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, one of Saddam Hussein's most senior military commanders.

Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, is believed to be a driving force behind the talks. Talabani, who met Blair yesterday, has made properties available for covert meetings in northern Iraq.

The Iraqi president has initiated his own contacts with insurgent groups. "Talabani has been updating the British on their progress and the British ambassador is kept in the picture at all times," said one source.

Last week Talabani claimed there were signs of a breakthrough in attempts to persuade some groups to give up violence and pursue political means.

Others are understood to have turned against the largely foreign fighters of Al-Qaeda for its indiscriminate killings of Iraqis.

"All these groups are solid in their resistance to Al-Qaeda's growing dominance in Iraq, and in recent weeks we witnessed clashes between these groups and Al-Qaeda," said a source close to the president.

One item on the agenda is believed to be the offer of an amnesty for Sunni prisoners.


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