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State Dept. official cites `arrogance' and `stupidity' in US effort

BAGHDAD -- A senior US diplomat said the United States had shown "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq but was now ready to talk with any group except Al Qaeda in Iraq to facilitate national reconciliation.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera television aired late yesterday, Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department offered an unusually candid assessment of America's war in Iraq.

"We tried to do our best, but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq," he said.

"We are open to dialogue because we all know that, at the end of the day, the solution to the hell and the killings in Iraq is linked to an effective Iraqi national reconciliation," he said, speaking in Arabic from Washington. "The Iraqi government is convinced of this."

The question of negotiations between the United States and insurgency factions has repeatedly surfaced over the past two years, but details have been sketchy. One issue that was often raised in connection with such negotiations was the extent of amnesty the United States and its Iraqi allies were willing to offer to the insurgents if they disarmed and joined the political process.

Fernandez spoke to the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera after a man claiming to speak for Saddam Hussein's outlawed Ba'ath Party told the network the United States was seeking a face-saving exodus from Iraq and that insurgents were ready to negotiate but won't lay down arms.

"Abu Mohammed," a pseudonym for the man, appeared to set near impossible conditions for the start of any talks with the Americans, including the return to service of Hussein's armed forces, the annulment of every law adopted since Hussein's ouster, the recognition of insurgent groups as the sole representatives of the Iraqi people, and a timetable for a gradual, unconditional withdrawal of US and other foreign troops in Iraq.

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