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Tom Hayden: Documents Reveal Secret Talks Between U.S. and Armed Iraqi Resistance

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Former California State Senator Tom Hayden is reporting that U.S. officials have secretly been involved in direct contacts with the Sunni armed resistance to explore a ceasefire in Iraq and even the possible replacement of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government with an interim one. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Sunni, Shia and Kurdish leaders in Iraq’s government called Sunday for an end to the escalating sectarian conflict in Iraq. The joint appeal comes three days after over 200 people were killed in a siege on the Shia neighborhood of Sadr City in what’s been described as the deadliest attack on Iraqis since the war began. Hundreds of more Iraqis died over the weekend in reprisal killings.

The statement came after leading Sunni cleric, Harith al-Dhari, called for Arab countries to withdraw their recognition of the Iraqi government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is coming under intense pressure from Sunni and Shia groups as he prepares for a summit in Jordan with President Bush this week. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has threatened to pull his followers from government and Parliament if the proposed meeting goes ahead.

Meanwhile, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is due to fly to Iran to hold talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to discuss the situation in Iraq. This comes as The New York Times is reporting that a draft report written by the Iraq Study Group is urging the U.S. government to seek an aggressive regional diplomatic initiative that includes direct talks with Iran and Syria but sets no timetables for a military withdrawal. There’s been increasing debate within the United States over a possible U.S. withdrawal.

Meanwhile, The Huffington Post reports U.S. officials have secretly been involved in direct contacts with the Sunni armed resistance to explore a ceasefire. The article was written by Tom Hayden. He joins us on the line from California. A former California state senator, Hayden was a leader of the antiwar movement during the Vietnam era. His latest article is “U.S. Retreat from Iraq? The Secret Story.” Welcome to Democracy Now!

TOM HAYDEN: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us, Tom. Well, why don’t you lay out what you learned?

TOM HAYDEN: Well, it’s very murky, and we’ll know enough in a few days, I suppose. But over the past several years, but especially in the past months since the election, there have been contacts, at a deniable level, but definite contacts, between representatives of the armed Iranian—armed Iraqi National Resistance and the U.S. over the possible conditions for a ceasefire and a change of regime in Baghdad. And the reason—the sources of this are, first, I have some direct knowledge of meetings in Amman just a few days ago. Secondly, it’s been all over the press in the Arab world, like on Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper on November 3rd. And it’s consistent with the past. And the question, I guess, is: Is there a faction of the administration that has decided to explore a ceasefire and a settlement with the Sunni resistance, since the U.S. has failed to defeat them militarily? That would require probably a deadline for withdrawal and further talks.

And then, secondly, it may be that the U.S. has realized that the Shia that it placed in power have created a pro-Iran Shia state, starting in southern Iraq. So the U.S. now seems to want to launch an urban offensive against the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr in Sadr City. You know what kind of blood bath that would be. To do that, they would have to get the prime minister, al-Maliki, out of the way, because he depends on al-Sadr for votes in Parliament. So, there could be a plan to replace al-Maliki with a strongman, turn the Shia loose and so on. But who knows?

What I do know is that the—that the peace movement is very important as a factor in all this and needs to stay alive, because they have rattled the foreign policy establishment, creating a—not only a general mandate for peace, but a timetable. You know, there’s a certain urgency to get this business done before the 2008 election.

AMY GOODMAN: Tom Hayden, how do you know this? Who have you spoken to?

TOM HAYDEN: Well, there were meetings just a few days ago in Amman, at which Americans were present, including congressional officials. And there was a direct meeting, kind of a spontaneous, impromptu meeting, with an alleged leader of the resistance. In addition to that—

AMY GOODMAN: When you say a congressional—are you talking about Congressman Jim McDermott?

TOM HAYDEN: Yes. I don’t think that he called the meeting. I think the meeting happened. But you can talk to him. But in addition to that, you know, there’s a report in this November 3rd paper that was confirmed to me by a former Jordanian diplomat, who’s been an important behind-the-scenes person. It says—and we should be able to ask Condoleezza Rice—that she spoke to the Gulf Cooperation Council in October and confessed past mistakes and asked them to serve as intermediaries between the U.S. position and the position of the guerrillas, of the resistance groups, and was very explicit about that.

Third, I know of, for a fact, because I have the documents, that an operative, a person who’s sincere and well intended, has been in the field in Iraq making direct contacts with the—at least the Sunni insurgent groups and setting up discussions with them over a very specific platform for change in Iraq, if the United States agrees to withdraw.

AMY GOODMAN: This is an American contractor?

TOM HAYDEN: Yes. And those discussions are taking place in Iraq, in Amman, in Egypt. And it’s—you know, it’s one of these things that could be a great movie, great script, but it’s actually true. What is never known in these stories is how high up is the authorization for this person to proceed? Or is he just out there on a mission where the plug can be pulled at any moment? I think my experience tells me that multiple scenarios are always being run at once. So, I don’t—I think the important thing is that this is secret. The American officials don’t want to admit that they might be sponsoring talks with their alleged enemies. But I think the public ought to know, because part of the reason for this diplomatic process behind the scenes is that the public served notice on November 7th in the election that it’s time to wake up and formulate some kind of plan for getting out. I don’t think this is a plan to get out. I think this is a plan to reduce American casualties dramatically in order to stay in.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to former California State Senator Tom Hayden, who has written several pieces now for The Huffington Post about documents that’s he says reveal secret talks between the U.S. and the Iraqi Armed Resistance. When we come back, we’ll also be joined by Nir Rosen, who is a freelance reporter and a fellow at the New America Foundation. He has just returned from the Middle East. We’ll be back in a minute.

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