New York Times: Sunni Arab political leaders on Friday denounced an agreement between the United States and Iran to hold face-to-face talks about solutions to the unrest in Iraq, saying the conversations would amount to meddling by foreign nations in Iraq’s domestic affairs. The New York Times
By KIRK SEMPLE
BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 17 Sunni Arab political leaders on Friday denounced an agreement between the United States and Iran to hold face-to-face talks about solutions to the unrest in Iraq, saying the conversations would amount to meddling by foreign nations in Iraq’s domestic affairs.
The Iraqi Consensus Front, the country’s main Sunni political bloc, issued a statement calling the agreement “an obvious unjustified interference” and asserted that it was not obligated to comply with any results of the negotiations.
The Sunni leadership has long criticized Tehran’s influence over Iraq’s powerful Shiite religious parties, and its opposition to the talks could add another obstacle to the grinding efforts by Iraq’s political leaders to forge a coalition government.
“The Iraqis in the current government should have these talks with the Iranians and discuss the level of intervention of Iran,” Naseer al-Ani, a member of the Sunni Arab bloc, said in a telephone interview. “It’s not up to the American ambassador to talk to Iran about Iraq.”
The agreement between the United States and Iran was announced Thursday. Ali Larijani, general secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said Iran’s participation came at the request of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful Shiite party with ties to Iran.
Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said the Bush administration would not meet with Iran to negotiate the future of Iraq but rather to voice its concerns about what he called Iran’s “unhelpful role” in Iraq. It remained unclear on Friday whether Iraqi leaders would be invited to the meetings.
The Sunni criticism came as leaders of Iraq’s major political blocs, as well as the American ambassador, gathered in the heavily fortified compound of President Jalal Talabani to discuss the formation of a new Iraqi government.
According to several participants, the discussions focused on the proposal to create a national security council composed of leaders of the executive, judicial and legislative branches, as well as representatives of the country’s main political blocs. The council would be consulted on pivotal national issues, like the economy, oil policy, public services and security.
Some Sunni leaders wanted the council’s decisions to have binding executive authority. But, several participants said, the Shiite leadership and others were insisting that the council have only advisory powers, thereby safeguarding the constitutional powers of the executive.
A working group planned to continue the discussions on Saturday and was expected to submit its conclusions to the blocs’ political leaders by Sunday, officials said.
In Halabja, Kurdistan, militias loyal to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party that governs the eastern part of the autonomous region, began a crackdown after a riot on Thursday in which demonstrators destroyed a museum dedicated to the thousands who perished in a poison gas attack by Saddam Hussein’s security forces in 1988.
The riot began as a rally against government corruption but became violent after government guards fired weapons over the protesters’ heads.
“The episode is a painful reminder that reforms are needed everywhere in this part of the world,” Barham Saleh, Iraq’s planning minister and a Kurd, said in an interview on Friday.
Although the riot may have arisen in part from the legitimate grievances of frustrated people, he said, radical Islamists might have taken advantage of the discord to foment violence. “Obviously this has to be investigated thoroughly,” he said.
American and Iraqi security forces continued their search for insurgent hide-outs near Samarra on Friday, the second day of an assault in the area, north of Baghdad, though the results appeared to be modest and the American command began to return some troops to their bases.
About 10 people were detained on Friday, bringing the number of suspected insurgents captured during the raid to 47, said Lt. Col. Edward Loomis, a spokesman for the 101st Airborne Division, which is leading the operation. At least 17 have been released after questioning, he said, adding that troops uncovered no new weapons stockpiles on Friday.
The operation has garnered widespread attention, in part because Samarra is where a Shiite shrine was bombed by insurgents last month, setting off a wave of sectarian violence. But the military has not suggested that this assault was a direct response to the bombing.
The American military command described the push as the largest “air assault” since the invasion in 2003. The military defines air assault as the insertion of troops by aircraft. Some television networks erroneously used the term “airstrikes,” conjuring images of the “shock and awe” bombing campaign that heralded the invasion.
But there were no reported aerial bombardments during this operation, and Colonel Loomis said Friday that the American and Iraqi forces had encountered no armed resistance and suffered no casualties.
The American military reported that a soldier from the 101st Airborne was shot and killed at an observation post in Samarra on Thursday, but the incident appeared to be unrelated to the operation.
In Baghdad, the authorities recovered two more bodies, both handcuffed, blindfolded and shot in the head, according to an official in the Interior Ministry. At least 170 bodies, all showing evidence of execution-style killings, have been recovered around Baghdad in the last 10 days, according to Iraqi officials.
Though the motives for most of the killings remain unclear, officials fear that the wave of executions is a continuation of the sectarian reprisals that followed the destruction of the Samarra shrine last month.
Gunmen fired on Shiite pilgrims in several locations on Friday, killing at least one and wounding 12, the ministry official said. An improvised bomb, apparently directed at pilgrims, exploded on the road between Mahmudiya and Karbala, killing one and wounding four, the official said.
Thousands of Shiites are converging on Karbala, in the south, to celebrate the end of the 40-day mourning period commemorating the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
Robert F. Worth contributed reporting from Halabja for this article.