James Baker meets Sunni leaders in Iraq

James Baker meets Sunni leaders in Iraq
September 2nd, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: James Baker meets Sunni leaders in Iraq

James Baker meets Sunni leaders in Iraq
Date:September 1, 2006

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, who heads an
independent panel charged with taking a fresh look at U.S. policy in Iraq,
met the most senior Sunni leaders in the Iraqi coalition government on

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.

Baker, a close friend of the Bush family who served under President George
W. Bush's father, sat silently at a news conference held after his meeting
with Zobaie.

"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.

His bi-partisan Iraq Study Group has kept a low profile since being set up
by Congress in March to study the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which has become
increasingly unpopular among Americans ahead of Congressional elections in

Bush's popularity ratings have been hit by the unrelenting Sunni insurgency
which continues to exact a bloody toll on U.S. troops. At least 64 soldiers
were killed in August, about the average since 2003.

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.

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