Iraq said Sunday it has delayed a major anti-insurgent offensive ahead of December's elections, as President Jalal Talabani confirmed he had been contacted by rebels wanting to join the political process.
The announcement came as the leader of the country's most powerful political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, criticized U.S. forces for preventing Iraqi troops tackling the insurgency head-on.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr announced the suspension of the large-scale offensive against "hotbeds of terrorism" following an appeal by Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa.
"President Talabani got in touch with me after receiving a call from Mr. Moussa, and asked me to call off this operation to ensure the success of the national reconciliation conference" in February, Jabr told.
Disparate Iraqi groups met in Cairo early this month to prepare for a full-fledged reconciliation meeting in Iraq.
The Sunni-based Committee of Muslim Scholars had called on the Arab League to prevent such an operation, saying there had been too many cases of innocent people being rounded up and detained.
Meanwhile, Talabani confirmed he had received calls from people claiming to be linked to the insurgency, saying they were ready to engage in political talks.
Despite Talabani's conciliatory words, SCIRI leader Abdel-Aziz Hakim lamented what he said were U.S. "obstacles" to Iraqi forces dealing with rebels.
U.S. forces are sometimes "an obstacle preventing Iraqi forces from taking the right course," he told. "U.S. mistakes have cost us dearly in the past and still cost us dearly today."
The accusations came as former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi said in another interview that human rights abuses in Iraq were now as bad, or worse, than when Saddam was in power.
Hitting back, Talabani insisted that the government was against any form of torture or harming of detainees.
Allawi's comments followed recent revelations that some 170 detainees were illegally held, tortured and starved at a clandestine center run by the Interior Ministry, AFP reports.
Photo: the AP