BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Iraq’s interim prime minister went to Jordan yesterday for meetings with tribal figures and other influential Iraqis in a bid to encourage Sunni Muslims to participate in the Jan. 30 elections, but he ruled out contacts with insurgent leaders and former members of Saddam Hussein’s deposed regime.
Insurgents targeted U.S. troops yesterday in Baghdad and in and around Beiji, a city north of the capital, killing four Iraqi civilians and wounding at least 20 other people, including three U.S. soldiers. Three Iraqi children aged 3, 4 and 5 were killed when two mortar rounds struck their neighborhood in Baqouba, the U.S. military said.
The attacks came as the U.S. military announced that its November death toll reached at least 135. That figure equaled the highest number of U.S. deaths in a single month since the Iraq war began in March 2003.
Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who arrived in Amman late yesterday, sought to play down expectations that his meetings would mark a breakthrough in curbing the violence, saying Jordan was simply the first stop on a tour that would take him to Germany and Russia.
Before leaving Baghdad, Allawi said his government would pursue contacts with “tribal figures” and other influential Iraqis to encourage broad participation in the elections, which some Sunni clerics have threatened to boycott.
But Allawi branded reports that he would meet with former Baath party figures as “an invention by the media,” although word of such contacts came last week from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. Former Baath party leaders are believed to form the core of the insurgency.
Ministry officials had said that Arab governments urged the Iraqi authorities to make contacts with Iraqi exiles and opposition figures during a conference last week at the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheik.
Arab officials fear that without some overture by the Iraqi government toward Sunni Arab insurgents, many Sunnis may boycott the Jan. 30 elections, calling into question the legitimacy of the new administration.
Most Arab countries are majority Sunni, while an estimated 60 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people are Shiites. Bahrain offered to host an Iraqi reconciliation conference.