Iraq’s government was demanding explanations from the United States and Turkey about an alleged protocol signed this year between an American official and a representative of a group of Iraqi Sunni insurgents in Istanbul as a precursor to negotiations between the two sides.
The Iraqi government said in a statement late Thursday that the protocol amounts to “an interference in Iraq’s internal political affairs” and that it was expecting “clear explanations” from American and Turkish officials at the embassies in Baghdad.
The Foreign Ministry was not immediately available for comment.
The controversy over the alleged meeting erupted July 15, when Ali al-Jubouri, identified as the secretary-general of the Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance, was interviewed on Qatar-based Al Jazeera television. Jubouri revealed that his council, which represents Sunni insurgent groups, met in March with representatives of the American government in Istanbul. He said a protocol was signed then to govern future negotiations between the two sides.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has complained to President Barack Obama about a U.S. meeting with alleged Iraqi insurgents, Baghdad's top diplomat said. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in Washington on Thursday that the Iraqi government found it "shocking" that representatives of the "Iraqi resistance movement" met with Turkish officials and at least one U.S. official last spring.
"We, the Iraqi government, were amazed that representatives from the American and Turkish sides met with representatives from those groups," Zebari told Al-Hurra, the official Arabic-language U.S. television station, adding that the insurgent groups "adopt violence and terrorism."
Zebari said Baghdad was "still investigating" the alleged meeting with the "resistance political council," adding that the Iraqi government had discussed the issue with U.S. officials. "The interesting part is that neighboring countries and allies are guaranteeing the freedom of movement of those groups in an independent country like Iraq," Zebari said, adding that militants who fight both Iraqis and Americans participated in the meeting. "How do you expect allies and friends of the government and the political process to meet and negotiate with parties that are accused of terrorism?" Agence France-Presse quoted him as asking.
Baghdad knew of meeting, says US
Contacts between the American government and Iraqi insurgent groups are nothing new. A State Department spokesman confirmed that the meeting had taken place, with Baghdad's knowledge, as part of reconciliation efforts between the Shiites, who are in the majority in the Iraqi government, and Sunni insurgents.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Jubouri said that a second meeting took place in May but that talks ended because the American side showed it was “not serious” in fulfilling the council’s demands, which included an apology by the American government for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, compensation for all the damage suffered by the Iraqi people and the release of all prisoners. He said that even though actual negotiations never began, the protocol itself was an “achievement” and an “admission” by the Americans of the legitimacy of the Iraqi insurgency.
U.S. officials and Iraqi insurgents have met recently with the coordination of an Iraqi government reconciliation unit attached to Maliki’s office, reported The New York Times without giving further details. “The goal is to get insurgents to renounce violence and embrace the political process,” the Times said on its Web site.
“But the release of the document of the protocol appears to be an attempt to embarrass the United States and show how deeply involved it remains in Iraq’s affairs. It also underscores just how hostile Mr. Maliki’s Shiite-led government remains to any serious engagement with Sunni insurgents, especially those suspected of having links to Saddam Hussein’s former ruling Baath Party,” the Times added.
“U.S. officials, both military and diplomatic, meet with a wide range of Iraqi contacts with the purpose of promoting reconciliation and fostering national unity,” State Department Spokesman Robert Wood told Agence France-Presse. “The meetings in question occurred some months ago and with the knowledge ofofficials within the Iraqi government.”
The spokesman said Washington had not sought in any way to weaken the Iraqi government with the move. “Having spent the past six years helping Iraq build a representative and effective democratic government, the last thing we would do is take any action intended to undercut it,” Wood said.