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Iraq's Shiias Earn Rumsfeld's Praise for Outreach Efforts

By Petty Officer 3rd Class John R. Guardiano, USN
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2005 – The Shiia majority in the Iraqi government drew praise from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today for reaching out to political opponents who might be amenable to working within that country's nascent political framework.

What the dominant Shiias have done is "just right," Rumsfeld said. "Instead of saying, 'OK, Sunnis, you didn't participate (in the Jan. 30 election), therefore, you're out,' they've reached out to them. And that process is taking place right now, and it's a good process."

Rumsfeld was responding to questions on Sunday morning news talk shows about reported meetings between U.S. and Iraqi officials and the insurgents.

The secretary did not deny that such meetings have taken place. "Oh, I wouldn't doubt it," he told Tim Russert on the NBC News program "Meet the Press." "The government of Iraq is sovereign. They're the ones that are reaching out to the people who are not supporting the government."

American officials certainly are helping the Iraqi government with this, Rumsfeld added, but he emphasized that no one is negotiating with fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his henchmen. "It isn't a matter of negotiating with terrorists," he said. "There's no one negotiating with Zarqawi or the people that are out chopping people's heads off."

Rumsfeld explained that Iraq has a broad range of political groups. These include not only violent terrorist insurgents and Shiia government leaders, but also Sunnis who would like now to participate in the political process and former Baathists who also are amenable to cooperation. These are the people the Iraqi government is trying proactively to engage, he said.

"They're not going to try to bring in the people with blood on their hands, for sure, but they certainly are reaching out continuously, and we help to facilitate those (efforts) from time to time," Rumsfeld said.

"The Sunnis," he observed, "made a terrible mistake by not participating in the elections. They know they made a terrible mistake." He noted that the Sunnis now are getting involved in the political system, using the opening the Shiias gave them to be part of the new Iraq.

"I would not make a big deal of it," Rumsfeld said of the reports of meetings involving U.S. officials. "Meetings go on frequently with people," Rumsfeld told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. "I get reports on dozens of meetings."

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