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Iraqi leader might meet with others in region

Iraq's prime minister reversed course Tuesday and said his envoys will talk with Iraq's neighbors about the possibility of a regional conference on quelling the violence here, despite opposition to the plan by some key political allies.

The announcement by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was welcomed by the White House. It came as more than 100 people were killed or found dead in and around Baghdad, underscoring the urgency of finding a solution to the bloodshed.

The U.S. military said three more American troops died Monday - two as a result of insurgent attacks and one in a traffic accident.

Despite a string of ambushes, mortar attacks and bombings Tuesday, the chief U.S. military spokesman told reporters all of Iraq would be under Baghdad's control by the fall of 2007, with U.S. soldiers and Marines and other coalition forces playing a supporting role.

Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, told reporters his envoys would talk with other governments in the region, most of them dominated by Sunni Muslims, about how they might help establish security and stability in Iraq.

"After the political climate is cleared, we will call for the convening of a regional conference in which these countries that are keen on the stability and security of Iraq will participate," he said.

He did not say what a proper political climate would be.

Maliki's statement fell short of an unconditional call for a conference. Previously, he and other Iraqi leaders have resisted suggestions they include outsiders in efforts to settle their bitter internal divisions.

Iraq's Shiites, who dominate the government, fear Sunni-dominated countries will pressure Baghdad to make concessions to Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, which launched the insurgency against the U.S.-led coalition three years ago.

Maliki said any conference should take place in Iraq. Any proposals to emerge, he added, should conform to "what the national unity government wants."

The Bush administration welcomed the announcement. "It's a good idea for the Iraqis to be involved in working with their neighbors on issues of regional security," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Maliki also said Iraqi leaders would meet in mid December to reconcile feuding factions and "strengthen the Iraqi national unity."

The United States maintains about 140,000 troops in Iraq. U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told reporters that efforts to transfer security responsibility from the American forces to the Iraqi military were moving forward. He predicted the entire country would be under the control of Iraqi police and military by the fall of next year.

The planned transfer of authority, he said, was part of an accelerated timetable discussed by President Bush and Maliki last week in Jordan.