Iraqi Shiite politicians and religious leaders are meeting in Najaf this weekend in the hope of overcoming factional differences and reaching agreement on at least a temporary halt in violence by their militias. The key figure in the negotiations is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the influential Shiite spiritual leader who lives in Najaf and who was recently reported to be furious with the record levels of attacks by Shiite Muslim militia and Sunni insurgents. Sistani, who hardly ever makes public pronouncements, was recently reported as calling for a joint effort by Shiites, Sunni, and Kurds to halt Iraq’s sectarian strife. […]

DAMACUS, Syria — The Iraq Study Group report said what Damascus wanted to hear about the urgency for a change of U.S. policy in Iraq and the need to engage both Damascus and Tehran in Iraqi affairs to minimize, if not end, the rising sectarian violence. Speaking to Al-Jazeera television recently, Buthaina Shaaban, Syria’s minister of expatriate affairs, said that the report was a “very important step because it means ending this era of American meddling in the region and the U.S. occupation of Iraq.” Damascus has long objected to the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, and it has […]

WASHINGTON — Developments in Baghdad are not waiting for President Bush to end his elaborate round of consultations on what to do next in Iraq. The White House now says it will reveal its revised Iraq strategy in the new year. But on Saturday, the Iraqis are scheduled to hold an all-party reconciliation conference in an attempt to unravel the skein of crisis and violence that has brought the country to a state of virtual civil war. Sources in Iraq said the much-postponed conference, now brought forward from its tentative date in early January, is not likely to be put […]

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The United States embassy in Baghdad is a bustling complex with a staff of over a thousand Americans, more than in any other country. Its Iraqi counterpart in Washington is a quiet, shuttered red brick house adjacent to Dupont Circle with maybe a dozen staffers headed by Ambassador Mahmoud Sumaidaie. who has held the post since May. Sumaidaie may be Iraq’s leading voice in the United States, but he speaks in a whisper, and very selectively, steering clear of the high volume public debate about the future of his country. For a diplomat whose country dominates the news, he has […]

WASHINGTON — President George Bush met with a leading Iraqi Shiite politician at the White House Monday amid speculation of an imminent change of direction in the U.S. approach towards charting Iraq’s national destiny. Bush said he told Sayyed Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the influential leader of SCIRI, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, “we’re not satisfied with the pace of progress in Iraq.” The administration has been gathering proposals from several sources on how to put the democratization of Iraq back on track and accelerate an orderly American withdrawal. One source, the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group is […]