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Bush, Iraqi premier to meet

The two will talk in Jordan about 'the way ahead.' Iraq and Syria formally resume diplomatic relations.

November 22, 2006|Solomon Moore | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — President Bush will meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki next week in Jordan to discuss methods to speed up the handover of military responsibilities from U.S. troops to Iraqi security forces, White House officials said Tuesday.

The session, scheduled at the end of Bush's planned trip to a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Latvia, will allow the two leaders to "review the situation in Iraq more generally and talk about the way ahead," said national security advisor Stephen Hadley, speaking to reporters on Air Force One as the president returned to Washington from Asia.

The announcement was made hours after the foreign ministers of Iraq and Syria formally announced the resumption of diplomatic relations, with pledges to strengthen communication and security between the two neighbors.

The diplomatic developments came against a backdrop of more violence in Iraq, including the attempted assassination of Iraq's parliament speaker, Mahmoud Mashadani. The controversial Sunni Arab, once detained by U.S. forces, narrowly escaped death when a bomb planted under his car detonated as he left a legislative session in the capital.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said after a genial meeting at Iraq's Foreign Ministry that the nations would reestablish embassies in Baghdad and Damascus. Moallem said Syria would back away from its demand that U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq immediately, recognizing that the forces are in the country with the permission of the Iraqi government.

The diplomats also announced that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani would visit Tehran on Sunday and Damascus shortly thereafter to discuss Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's offer of a three-way summit among the neighboring states.

Hadley, answering a reporter's question about the warming of relations between Iraq and neighbors Syria and Iran, said the United States thought that it was "important that Iraq be speaking directly to those countries and making it clear to them that they need to play a positive role in seeking security, stability and democracy in Iraq.

"And that is the message they've been delivering," Hadley said.

He said Bush and Maliki would focus on the progress of a committee recently formed to speed the shifting of security responsibilities to Iraqi forces.

Discussions between Baghdad and Damascus will focus on the readiness of the Iraqi army to resume control of the nation's security, Zebari said Tuesday.

In the meantime, Moallem said Syria would work to improve security and negotiate with insurgents based in his country.

Syria is a main refuge and entry point for Sunni Arab militants.

"We focused on the concerns and worries of Iraq and decided that improving communication is the best way to coordinate shared security concerns," Zebari said. "There will be special task forces to set up diplomatic relations between us, and there will be frequent meetings with Syrian security officials."

Asked whether Syria would be able to persuade Iraqi militants to lay down their arms, Moallem was sanguine.

"You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink," he said.

Authorities announced the discovery of 26 bodies across Baghdad, most of them scarred by torture and gunfire.

In Baghdad, gunmen killed Saad Khraibit Rashid, an assistant general manager at the Health Ministry, and a bomb aboard a minibus killed one person and injured 10.

The U.S. military said American troops killed three suspected insurgents during a raid in the capital.

Iraqi special forces and U.S. military advisors conducted a raid in Sadr City, a Baghdad neighborhood that is the stronghold of the Al Mahdi army, a Shiite Muslim paramilitary force, in an unsuccessful attempt to find U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Ahmed Qusai Taei, who was abducted Oct. 23.

In Hawija, near the northern oil hub of Kirkuk, a policeman was slain, a local official said.

In Kirkuk, gunmen killed Hussein Qader Omar, the director of the education college at the University of Kirkuk.

In the southern city of Hillah, police arrested three more people in connection with a bombing last week. Among the detainees were three Egyptians, including Sheik Majeed Sulaiman, also known as Khalid Masri, a suspected aide to Abu Ayyub Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

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