Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Iraqi leader denies rebel talks


Iraq's president has denied his government has talked to insurgents, contradicting an earlier claim by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"The Iraqi government has nothing to do with the negotiations with insurgents," Jalal Talabani said on Tuesday.

He spoke to reporters to mark the first anniversary of the US handover of power to an Iraqi government.

There was no let-up in violence on the anniversary, which saw Iraq's oldest lawmaker killed by a suicide bomber.

Dhari al-Fayadh, 87, died with his son and three bodyguards when the car bomb hit their convoy in northern Baghdad.

He is the second MP to die in renewed violence following the installation of an elected government in April.

More than 1,000 people - mostly Iraqis - have been killed since the government was formed.

Negotiations denied

Mr Rumsfeld said at the weekend the US regularly "facilitates" meetings between Iraqi officials and insurgents.

But he downplayed their significance, saying "I wouldn't make a big deal of it."

Mr Talabani flatly denied the claim, saying if the Americans were negotiating with the insurgents, "it's up to them".

The controversy is unwelcome news for US President George Bush, who is delivering a major speech to mark the anniversary, the BBC's world affairs correspondent Nick Childs says.

Opinion polls in the US suggest support for the presence of American troops in Iraq is dwindling, with 56% of respondents disapproving of the administration's Iraq policy.

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