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Iraqi 'secret surrender' negotiations under way

From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials told CNN Wednesday that "secret surrender" negotiations have begun with key Iraqi military officials in hopes some military units will not fight U.S. and coalition forces should there be a war.

Communications with these Iraqi military officials are not being handled by the Pentagon, but instead by other "elements" of the U.S. government, the officials said.

One senior official said some elements of the Iraqi military may have already agreed not to fight. This underscores assessments by both the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency that the leadership around Saddam Hussein is "brittle." Officials have been making that assessment somewhat public as part of their effort to publicize Saddam's vulnerability.

Officials, however, say specifics cannot be detailed out of concern Saddam could enact retribution.

To the dismay of the U.S. officials involved, the secret effort was first publicly hinted at Tuesday by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. When asked at a press conference how the Iraqi military could signal support for the U.S. effort, Rumsfeld said, "They are being communicated with privately at the present time. They are being, will be communicated with in a more public way. And they will receive instructions so that they can behave in a way that will be seen and understood as being non-threatening."

One official said Rumsfeld's public acknowledgment about the private communication was not expected, but now the basic facts are being acknowledged

The United States already has a widely publicized public effort to encourage surrender by the Iraqi military that includes dropping hundreds of thousands of leaflets with specific instructions on how to position units so they are not hostile, radio broadcasts with similar messages, and e-mails encouraging commanders to defect.

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