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U.S. in talks for peaceful surrender

Iraqi expatriates facilitating talks

From Andrea Koppel and Elise Labott

The timing of the bombing campaign was tied to the progress in the negotiations, a U.S. official told CNN

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraqi expatriates have been facilitating negotiations among CIA operatives, U.S. military officials and senior members of the Iraq Republican Guard inside Iraq aimed at achieving a peaceful surrender of Iraq, CNN has learned.

The expatriates, including Kurdish leaders and former military commanders who have "active contact with the Iraqi military," have been having "face-to-face discussions with senior members of the Iraqi Republican Guard in the last 24 to 36 hours," an administration official told CNN.

There "has been some receptivity to the idea, [but] it's not a done deal," the official said.

"They are negotiating a countrywide pacification that allows the U.S. to enter Iraq peacefully to achieve the purpose of disarmament," the official said.

He said the discussions were being "closely held and coordinated very closely" with CIA and U.S. military officials.

Timing of bombing campaign linked to talks

The official said the status of the negotiations was a factor in the timing of the start of the major U.S. bombing campaign Friday as officials assessed whether a deal could be struck.

But "because we weren't there yet, we decided to continue with the bad cop role," he said.

"The end result will be the same whether there is a peaceful agreement or not," the official said. "We are going to control every square inch of Iraq.

"We are going to remove the regime. The country will be disarmed."

He said the United States was going to begin "de-Baathification" and help Iraqis create a new government. The Baath Party controls Iraq.

'It's a simple choice.'

"The Iraqi [military] can die or live. It's a simple choice," the official said.

A CIA spokesman had no comment about the negotiations.

"There are a number of individuals in countries around the world who have been conveying the message to the Iraqi regime that it is now inevitable that there will be a change," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday.

"In order to prevent any loss of life beyond that which may have occurred already, it would be wise for Iraqi leaders to recognize that their day is over and that this is going to happen."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been saying in recent days the United States was in touch with Iraq's military leadership at all levels, but he indicated Friday talks had not progressed as far as the United States felt they should have.

The administration official said one of the reasons a deal had not been reached was the United States was trying to ascertain the authority with which the Iraqi Republican Guard senior leaders were speaking.

"It is unclear whether these guys represent themselves or a coalition of military commanders who want a brighter future for Iraq," he said.

He said some senior members of the Iraqi leadership who stepped down peacefully could be offered some sort of asylum.

The official said the Iraqi expatriates driving the negotiations were "pre-positioned in northern Iraq, ready to move at a moment's notice when we see the pillars of Iraqi leadership beginning to fall."

Some have "been hanging out for months" and some were recently dispatched to the region before getting a green light from the United States to enter Iraq over the past day or so.

"These are people for whom lines of communication with the U.S. have been open previously," the official said.

He said the United States had heard about the expatriates and had sent them leaflets and spammed their e-mails in recent weeks "asking them to take positive action ... and telling them we would deeply appreciate it if they did."

The official said that "if these guys play a positive role and help to facilitate this, they could certainly play a role" in a post-Saddam Iraq.

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