"We are receiving calls from groups who claim to be from the resistance and they are expressing their support for meetings [with the government]," Talabani said on Sunday.

"We want to convince every sincere Iraqi who is carrying arms to come and participate in the political process."
 
Talabani did not name the groups that contacted his office.

However, residents of al-Anbar province said on Thursday that four armed groups that were active in that area were conferring among themselves to chose a representative to meet government officials.

Offensive suspended

Meanwhile, Bayan Baker Solagh, the Interior Minister, announced the suspension of a large-scale offensive against "hotbeds of terrorism" after an appeal by Amr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the Arab League.

Amr Moussa appealed for the
operation to be called off

Solagh told reporters: "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]."

Iraqi groups met in Cairo this month to prepare for a reconciliation meeting in Iraq in February that would set a timetable for the withdrawal of US-led troops.

Aid workers held

Also on Sunday, a Canadian government official said four aid workers, including two Canadians, had been kidnapped in Iraq.

Dan McTeague, parliamentary secretary for Canadians abroad, said the incident happened on Saturday but declined to name the organisation for which the two Canadians worked or say where they were kidnapped.

McTeague said he would not release those details to protect the safety of the individuals involved. He said the aid organisation had not asked for help.

A British Foreign Office spokeswoman confirmed on Sunday that Norman Kember, a Briton, was among the four seized, but provided no further details.

 

"We will be in touch with the Iraqi authorities, and with the other countries involved, the Americans and the Canadians. We will be setting in motion an urgent investigation"

Spokeswoman,
British Foreign Office 

"We can confirm his name, but we cannot give any more details at this stage," she said.

 

"We will be in touch with the Iraqi authorities, and with the other countries involved, the Americans and the Canadians. We will be setting in motion an urgent investigation."

 

The fourth kidnapped worker was reported to be American.

 

Kember's wife, Pat, said on Sunday night that her husband used to be the secretary of the Baptist Peace Fellowship in Pinner, north London, where the couple lived, but he no longer represented the group.

 

"He is representing a number of different organisations," she said, but did not elaborate.

Plotters detained

In the northern city of Kirkuk, Iraqi police arrested eight Sunni Arabs on Saturday for allegedly plotting to assassinate the investigating judge who prepared the case against former president Saddam Hussein, a senior police commander said.

The plotters were carrying a
document from Izzat al-Duri

The men were carrying a document from Izzat al-Duri, a former top Saddam deputy, ordering them to kill judge Raed Juhi, said Colonel Anwar Qadir, a police commander in Kirkuk, where the men were arrested.
 
Al-Duri is the highest-ranking member of the overthrown Saddam government still at large, and is believed to be at least the symbolic leader of Saddam loyalists fighting the US-led forces and the new government in Iraq.

The arrest came two days before Saddam's trial resumes after a five-week break.

US marine killed

On Saturday, a US marine died when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb near Camp al-Taqaddum, 75km west of Baghdad, the US command said.

A statement said the marine was assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, but no other details were released.

The latest death raised the number of US service members killed since the Iraq war started in March 2003 to at least 2106, according to an Associated Press count.