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US Willing to Talk to Some Iraq Insurgents
By Gary Thomas
VOA, Washington
13 July 2005

The new U.S. ambassador to Iraq has denounced an insurgent attack that killed at least 27 people, many of them children. But the ambassador says the United States is open to having discussions with some selected elements of the Iraqi insurgency.

Incoming U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad condemned the insurgent attack, blaming it on "foreign terrorists" who use children for what he labeled "cannon fodder."

"That is yet another indication of the kind of people these terrorists are," he said. "They use children, as well as they target children."

One U.S. soldier was among the more than two dozen people, most of them Iraqi children, who were killed by a suicide car bomber in Baghdad. The bomb was detonated as a group of U.S. soldiers was handing out chocolate to children.

But Mr. Khalilzad, who is about to take up his post, said the United States is willing to talk to some elements of the Iraqi insurgency, so long as they are not foreign terrorists or what he called "hardcore Baathists" of Saddam Hussein's ousted regime.

"So we want to isolate those [elements]. But Iraqis who have an interest in a successful Iraq, who would like to live in a situation where minority rights are protected, where Iraq can work for Iraqis. So, yeah, we're willing, in cooperation with the Iraqi government and others, to talk to them," he said.

The Iraqi insurgency is not a single entity, but a diverse mix of groups, each of which has its own agenda. Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority held the reins of power during Saddam Hussein's rule. That has sparked resentment of the leading role given to the country's Shi'ite majority in the U.S.-backed transitional government.

Speaking with foreign reporters in Washington, Mr. Khalilzad said no community in Iraq should feel left out in the cold as Iraq builds its political institutions.

"No community should fear that it will not be accorded an appropriate role in the new Iraq, or not to be treated fairly in a system based on the rule of law," he said.

The ambassador said the United States has no interest in maintaining a permanent military presence in Iraq.

"Having forces in Iraq is for us not an end in itself," said Mr. Khalilzad. "We do not seek a permanent military presence in Iraq. We want to have forces able to assist Iraq stand on its own feet because a free people would like to be able to protect themselves."

Mr. Khalilzad urged Iraq's neighbors to start getting on friendly terms with Iraq now because it is going to be what he termed a "major player" in the region. He said the United States does not advocate or promote any tension between Iraq and neighboring Iran, which fought a long war in the 1980s. But he added there should be no interference in either country's internal affairs.