Saturday, September 02, 2006


Baker held talks in Baghdad with Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zobaie, both members of the Sunni minority who form the backbone of the insurgency fighting to oust U.S. forces from Iraq.

Zobaie has been meeting Sunni tribal leaders as part of the Iraqi government's efforts to defuse the insurgency. Hashemi has been critical of the national reconciliation plan, saying it is vague and fails to set a timetable for a U.S. troop pullout.

The U.S. embassy declined further comment on the unannounced visit to Iraq. It was not clear how long Baker, who also met President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, had been in the country.

"James Baker was the engineer of U.S. foreign policy for many years. He has been sent by George Bush personally to find out the reality of what is happening in Iraq," Zobaie said.

Panel members have spoken little of their work. They include retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, former CIA director Robert Gates, former Attorney General Edwin Meese and former Defense Secretary William Perry.

The White House said in March the Iraq Study Group would provide an independent look at the "way forward" in Iraq.

In its September issue, Washington Monthly magazine, which is critical of Bush, said the Iraq Study Group was "trying to devise a fresh set of policies to help the president chart a new course in -- or, perhaps, to get the hell out of -- Iraq."

A surge in sectarian violence has derailed U.S. plans to begin withdrawing some of its troops this year. Washington has boosted troop levels from 127,000 to 140,000 in recent weeks to help the Iraqi government regain control of its capital.

No comments: