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Iraqi leader rejects calls for conference

Citing sovereignty, president bars international talks

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, yesterday rejected suggestions that an international conference be held to address the violence wracking his country, echoing sentiments expressed by other leading politicians in the war-torn country.

"We are an independent and a sovereign nation, and it is we who decide the fate of the nation," Talabani said after meeting with Representative Christopher Shays, a Republican of Connecticut.

The US military, meanwhile, reported that seven Americans had been killed in weekend fighting in the Baghdad area and in Anbar province, west of the capital.

A US air raid flattened a building in Iraq's volatile west, killing two women and a toddler during combat that also killed six militants, the military said yesterday.

On Saturday, 51 people were killed in nearly simultaneous car blasts in Baghdad.

The comments of Talabani, a Kurd, echoed those voiced by other politicians.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari questioned the aim of the international conference suggested last week by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Zebari said it would be welcome only if it supported current efforts to solve Iraq's security problems, and if it assisted the government.

"Is it to take the political process back to square one and review all that is done in the past three years? If this is the aim, then we reject it," said Zebari, a Kurd.

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq's top Shi'ite politicians, rejected the idea Saturday while in Amman, Jordan, saying it would be unrealistic to debate Iraq's future outside the country.

But Ayad Allawi, former prime minister and a secular Shi'ite with close Washington links, disagreed, saying Iraq cannot solve its problems alone.

"It needs the participation and support of everyone, and that's a debt owed to the people of Iraq by foreign nations -- to support Iraq and stop the bloodshed," he said in an interview on Al-Jazeera, the Arab television.

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