US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed that US officials had met with insurgents in a bid to stem the carnage in Iraq.
Rumsfeld also said Iraq's insurgency could last a dozen years, but that the US would hand over to Iraqis the job of rounding up the rebels, after he confirmed a London Sunday Times report that US officials had met with rebels.
"The first thing I would say about the meetings is they go on all the time," he said on Fox News Sunday.
"Second, the Iraqis have a sovereign government. They will decide what their relationships with various elements of insurgents will be. We facilitate those from time to time," he said.
"That insurgency could go on for any number of years. Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years," Rumsfeld told Fox.
Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdel Mahdi said Sunday that he doubted that contacts between US officials and insurgent groups would stem the unrelenting violence in the country.
"This is not the first time they meet with these elements. They have met with them before," Abdel Mahdi told reporters after meeting with hardline Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr in the central shrine city of Najaf.
"I do not know if this move would end terrorist acts, because ending terror depends on the efforts of Iraqis and the brotherhood between Sunnis and Shiites."
The leadership of the Islamic Army in Iraq also denied that its representatives had negotiated with US officials.
"Whoever does so will receive the appropriate punishment," said the statement, which reporters could not verify.
A total of 1,725 US military personnel have been killed since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, adding to the pressure on Washington over its continued involvement in Iraq.
In Baghdad, a court charged with trying ousted leader Saddam Hussein released footage of six of his lieutenants being interrogated about alleged crimes against Kurds.
The move came four days after Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari blamed the court for delaying the trial of Saddam, in US custody since December 2003.
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