Al-Qaida-linked group making own rockets

A TOP insurgent leader boasted that his al-Qaida-linked group was making its own rockets, while Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki said his government was talking with militant groups to try to stop the violence.

The voice on an audiotape was said to be that of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq. The tape was posted on an Islamic website used by militant groups, but its authenticity could not be confirmed.

The rockets — called al-Quds-1, or Jerusalem-1 — “have moved into the phase of military production with an advanced degree of range and accuracy”, al-Baghdadi said.

Al-Maliki said the insurgent groups in contact with the government included members of Saddam’s former regime.

“We are having meetings with groups that are not part of the political process. They asked us not to reveal their names,” al-Maliki said.

“The talks are still going on and they are part of the national reconciliation.”

Al-Maliki announced a 24-point national reconciliation programme in June, that offers amnesty to members of the Sunni Arab-led insurgency who were not involved in terrorist activities, and amends a law that removed senior members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party from their jobs.

Last week, President Jalal Talabani said ongoing negotiations with five insurgent groups to join the political process had reached final stages.

Talabani also did not give their names.

Separately, al-Baghdadi’s group posted an internet statement saying its religious court had condemned 20 kidnapped Iraqi soldiers to death. On Saturday, the group claimed to have captured the troops to avenge the alleged rape of a woman by Iraqi police, and demanded the government hand over the rapists.

But there were no reports of any Iraqi officers missing, and an Interior Ministry official said yesterday that all troops were accounted for.

Meanwhile, hundreds of residents of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, crowded into a tent erected yesterday in front of the governor’s office for the start of a three-day sit-in to demand the official’s resignation.

“This governor is a hypocrite. We want him to come out,” they shouted.

“We demand the Basra governor resign,” read a banner hung from the tent. Gov Mohammed al-Waili was not believed to be in the building at the time.

The peaceful sit-in came a day after thousands of people paraded from a downtown mosque to al-Waili’s office in a demonstration that defied orders from Baghdad officials. Residents of Basra have long complained of poor services.

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