Iraqi Leaders Plan to Meet Insurgents in Jordan

By EDWARD WONG

New York Times

November 26, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 25 - The Iraqi foreign minister said Thursday that the interim Iraqi government planned to meet soon in Jordan with rebel leaders to try to persuade them to take part in politics here.

It was the first time the government had agreed to an official meeting with leaders of the insurgency. The minister, Hoshyar Zebari, did not give a date for the meeting or specify who would be invited.

He said Iraqi officials had agreed to the meeting after being asked by various diplomats at a conference this week in Egypt to open discussions with the resistance.

"The aim is really to reach out to as many people as possible both inside and outside" of Iraq, Mr. Zebari said at a news conference.

The government welcomes "the broader participation of Iraqis, even those who are oppositionists, in this process" of politics, he said, "if they renounce violence and terror."

The rebel leaders to be invited will be "some people who are of political and tribal backgrounds," he said, declining to elaborate. American and Iraqi officials say much of the insurgency is being financed by wealthy loyalists to Saddam Hussein who fled to bordering countries before the American-led invasion in March 2003. Many are believed to be helping to organize the insurgency from Syria and Jordan, and funneling millions of dollars to the ground troops of the rebellion.

Violence rippled across Sunni-dominated central and northern Iraq on Thursday, as ambushes and car bombs in Falluja and Samarra left two marines and two Iraqis dead, and more bodies of Iraqis were discovered in Mosul, in the north.

Meanwhile, a powerful Sunni Arab political party threatened that if elections set for Jan. 30 were not delayed, it would boycott them.

There was at least one blow to the insurgency: the Iraqi national security adviser, Kassim Daoud, said at a news conference on Thursday that a senior aide to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant leader, had been arrested in Mosul. He said the man, who goes by the nom de guerre of Abu Said, was picked up after people in the area had informed on him.

Mr. Daoud's announcement lends further evidence to the theory that Mr. Zarqawi may have set up a base of operations in Mosul after leaving Falluja before the American-led offensive began Nov. 8.

Mr. Zarqawi's group posted an Internet message on Thursday claiming responsibility for the killing the previous day of James Mollen, 48, a State Department employee who was an adviser to the Ministry of Education, news agencies reported. Mr. Mollen was shot in his car outside the heavily fortified Green Zone.

American military officials said Thursday that three more bodies had been discovered in Mosul, a city of two million 225 miles north of Baghdad that has emerged as one of the biggest problems for the Americans. One was a Kurdish militiaman and another appeared to be an Iraqi soldier, said Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla, commander of the First Battalion of the 24th Infantry. Both had been shot. The identity of the third has not been determined.

Hundreds of insurgents stormed and looted a half-dozen police stations in Mosul on Nov. 11, spurring 3,200 of the city's 4,000 police officers to quit. Since then, the city has remained unstable, with at least three dozen Iraqi bodies, mostly security officers, turning up in various parts of the city, some decapitated or killed with shots to the head.

In the devastated city of Falluja, insurgents killed two marines who were clearing houses in the south, military officials said. The rubble-strewn streets remain hazardous, with American troops continuing to battle bands of guerrillas operating in groups of three or four. Marines have been running into a growing number of foreign fighters in the south, commanders say.

Some of those, including a Turk captured Wednesday, have complained that the Iraqi handlers who were assigned to assist them on their arrival in Falluja have disappeared or have been killed, a Marine commander said.

The political divide between Sunni and Shiite Arabs widened with the release of a statement by eight Sunni parties calling for the Jan. 30 elections to be delayed. The most prominent of the parties, the Iraqi Islamic Party, which withdrew from the interim government during the Falluja offensive, threatened a boycott if there was no postponement. The head of the party, Mohseen Abdul Hameed, said conditions were too dangerous in central and northern Iraq to hold fair elections.

Sunni Arabs ruled the region for centuries until the American invasion last year, and many fear that the majority Shiites will seize unchecked power through the coming elections. The leading group of Sunni clerics, the Muslim Scholars Association, has already called for an election boycott.

An American-led offensive that began Tuesday continued immediately south of Baghdad in Babil Province, in an area along the Euphrates of lush farmland, impoverished villages and opulent residential compounds built by Hussein loyalists. An insurgent hotbed, Iraqis and American soldiers have been calling it "the triangle of death."

The American military said that thousands of American, British and Iraqi forces had rounded up 81 suspected insurgents near the restive town of Yusufiya on Thursday.

The aim is to clamp down on criminal gangs and families that have turned killings and kidnapping into a profitable enterprise. Bandits and insurgents regularly set up checkpoints along the main roads, which lead from Baghdad south to the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, and extort drivers and passengers or kill them for money. Many of the Iraqi security officers killed in the area have been Shiite Arabs, and Shiites in the southern city of Basra recently formed a militia of 300 called the Anger Brigades to take vengeance on Sunni Arab extremists in the area. Word of the group has spread quickly in Basra, and young men are eagerly joining.

Tensions in Basra have sharply risen over the siege of Falluja. Graffiti has appeared on walls and on the sides of mosques saying "Long live Falluja." Fliers are being handed out on the streets threatening to kill Iraqi security officers working with the Americans.

The Basra police chief, Brig. Gen. Muhammad Kadhim al-Ali, said Thursday that the police had arrested five guerrillas from Syria, Saudia Arabia, Sudan and Libya. The fighters were detained near the town of Qurna, the mythical site of the Garden of Eden, and were on their way down from Babil Province, General Ali said.

A spokesman for the Iraqi National Guard said guardsmen accompanied by British and Danish forces raided insurgent hide-outs in Zubayr, near Basra, and arrested 37 men from the restive Sunni areas of central and northern Iraq.

The series of car bombs in Samarra began with an explosion by an American military convoy, Agence France-Presse reported. Two Iraqis were killed and 13 wounded. A suicide car bomb exploded by a police station west of the city, killing the bomber. A third bomb exploded by a checkpoint, injuring an Iraqi national guardsman.

In early October, thousands of American and Iraqi troops swept through Samarra in what was hailed as a major offensive. The Americans proclaimed victory and withdrew from the city. Early this month, insurgents launched coordinated bomb and mortar attacks there, killing at least 30 Iraqis on a single day.

Robert F. Worth contributed reporting from Falluja for this article, Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Mosul, and Fakr Haider from Basra.