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Iraq Sunnis May Rejoin Government Talks
Yahoo News/AP
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writer
February 27, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Sunni Arabs are ready to end their boycott of talks to form a new Iraqi government if rival Shiites return mosques seized in last week's sectarian attacks and meet other unspecified demands, a top Sunni figure said Monday.

That prompted the U.S. State Department to praise the Sunni leadership for "looking to get back into the game, full strength."

"That's to be welcomed," deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said.

Meanwhile, Iraq's interior minister told ABC News that he believes American journalist Jill Carroll is alive and will be released, even though the Sunday deadline set by her kidnappers had passed.

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr also said he knew who abducted the 28-year-old journalist last month.

"We know his name and address, and we are following up on him as well as the Americans," he said. "I think she is still alive."

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends" Monday that he spoke with Jabr about Carroll's plight.

"We are doing all that we can to help bring about a release and will persist with that," Khalilzad said.

Carroll, a freelancer working for The Christian Science Monitor, was abducted Jan. 7 in Baghdad and was last seen on a videotape broadcast Feb. 10 by a Kuwaiti television station, Al-Rai. The station said the kidnappers threatened to kill her unless the United States met unspecified demands by Sunday.

In Germany, the government denied a New York Times report that its intelligence service had passed information about Saddam Hussein's plans for defending Baghdad to the United States a month before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Times said a German intelligence officer supplied the information to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency in February 2003.

"This account is wrong," German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said. "The Federal Intelligence Service and, therefore, also the government, had until now no knowledge of such a plan."

In continuing violence, four mortar rounds exploded Monday in a Shiite neighborhood, killing four and wounding 16, police Maj. Moussa Abdul Karim said. U.S. helicopters fired on three houses 15 miles west of Samarra and arrested 10 people, Iraqi police said.

It was unclear whether the raid was linked to Wednesday's bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, triggering the wave of reprisal attacks that shook the nation last week.

The Sunnis boycotted the talks Thursday after the Askariya shrine bombing sparked attacks against Sunni mosques in Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere. The walkout and Sunni-Shiite clashes threatened U.S. plans to establish a unity government capable of luring Sunnis away from the insurgency and raised doubts about U.S. plans to begin withdrawing some of its 138,000 soldiers this year.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, whose Iraqi Accordance Front spearheaded the Sunni boycott, said the Sunnis have not decided to return to the talks but are "intent on participating" in a new government.

"The situation is tense and within the next two days, we expect the situation to improve and then we will have talks," he told The Associated Press. "We haven't ended our suspension completely but we are on the way to end it."

He said there were "some conditions" that must be met first, chief among them the return of mosques still occupied by Shiite militants in Baghdad and Salman Pak. Al-Dulaimi did not mention the other demands, but some Sunni politicians have insisted on replacing Shiite police with Sunni soldiers in heavily Sunni areas.

In Washington, Ereli brushed aside the conditions set by the Sunnis, saying: "The conditions are less important than the fact that there are good-faith discussions going on about resuming full-bore talks on a national unity government."

Four people were killed Monday when several shells exploded near the Nasir Market in the mostly Shiite Shula area of western Baghdad, police said.

Otherwise, the city was generally peaceful Monday — the first day without extended curfews or a ban on private vehicles since the crisis erupted, pushing the nation to the brink of civil war.

Four bodies — blindfolded and handcuffed — were found Monday in Dora, a Baghdad neighborhood where a mortar barrage the night before killed 16 people and wounded 53. Two Iraqi soldiers were wounded in an ambush Monday in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of the capital, officials said.

The U.S. military said an American soldier had died from non-combat related injuries suffered Friday north of Baghdad. The statement did not elaborate. Three soldiers were killed Sunday in combat in the capital.

Their deaths brought to at least 2,291 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the war began, according to an Associated Press count.

Four people were killed in a pair of shootings Monday in Baqouba, the Diyala provincial capital. The day before, gunmen killed two youths playing soccer in Baqouba and wounded five.

Although sectarian violence has receded since the attacks last week, tensions remain high between majority Shiites and the minority Sunnis. Shiites dominate ranks of the government security forces and most of the insurgents are Sunnis.

More than 60 Shiite families fled their homes in predominantly Sunni areas west and north of Baghdad after receiving threats, said Shiite legislator Jalaladin al-Saghir and Iraqi army Brig. Gen. Jalil Khallaf.

Sunni and Shiite religious leaders have called for unity and an end to attacks on each other's mosques.

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