LONDON – U.S. officials held secret talks in Iraq with the commanders of several Iraqi insurgent groups recently in an attempt to open a dialogue with them, a British newspaper reported Sunday.
The commanders “apparently came face to face” with four American officials during meetings on June 3 and June 13 at a summer villa near Balad, about 25 miles north of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, according to The Sunday Times.
The Sunday Times said neither the Iraqi government nor U.S. officials in Baghdad would confirm its report about the talks.
Military officials in Baghdad did not immediately respond to a request by The Associated Press for comment on the Times article early Sunday morning.
The story, which quoted unidentified Iraqis whose groups were purportedly involved in the talks, said those at the first meeting included Ansar al-Sunnah Army, which has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Iraq and an attack that killed 22 people in the dining hall of a U.S. base at Mosul last Christmas.
Two others were Jaish Mohammed, or Mohammed’s Army, and the Islamic Army in Iraq, which in August reportedly killed Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni, the newspaper said.
One of the Americans at the talks introduced himself as a
Pentagon representative and declared himself ready to “find ways of stopping the bloodshed on both sides and to listen to demands and grievances,” The Sunday Times said.
It said the official indicated that the results of the talks would be relayed to his superiors in Washington.
The U.S. officials tried to gather information about the structure, leadership and operations of the insurgent groups, which irritated some members, who had been told the talks would consider their main demand, a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, the report said.
The newspaper report follows accounts of indirect talks with the insurgents using Iraqi intermediaries.
A senior U.S. official said earlier this month that American authorities have negotiated with key Sunni leaders, who are in turn talking with insurgents and trying to persuade them to lay down their arms. The official, who did not give his name so as not to undercut the new government’s authority, did not name the Sunni leaders engaged in dialogue.
Members of the disaffected Sunni minority group, which was dominant under
Saddam Hussein but lost power to Shiites and Kurds after his ouster, are believed to be the driving force behind Iraq’s insurgency.
Iraq’s former electricity minister, Ayham al-Samarie, has told The Associated Press that two insurgent groups — the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Army of Mujahedeen — were willing to negotiate with the Iraqi government, possibly opening a new political front in the country.