Preparations are underway to hold meetings between the US-led forces and representatives of the Iraqi insurgency at the US embassy in Amman, a Jordanian newspaper reported yesterday.
"An Iraqi delegation will arrive shortly in the Jordanian capital to conduct the final arrangements for such meetings and fix demands of the participant Iraqi rebel groups," the daily Al-Arab Al-Yawm quoted sources close to the insurgents as saying. "About 10 insurgent factions have expressed readiness to take part in such direct meetings but with preconditions."
During a recent visit to Jordan, Iraqi Vice President Tarek al-Hashemi said that he intended to re-open talks with rebel groups with a view to ending the current security turmoil in Iraq.
He reportedly met with insurgent representatives who mainly belonged to the Sunni community.
Meanwhile, gunmen opened fire on a convoy of Iraqi pilgrims bound for Mecca yesterday, killing at least one person, while US forces said they launched air and ground attacks that killed an estimated 17 insurgents preparing to ambush a US column.
The pilgrims were traveling south about 25km from the city of Baqubah, when the unidentified shooters showered their convoy with machine gun fire at about 9:30am, a spokesman for Diyala Province's Public Relations and Information Bureau said.
In Baqubah itself, gunmen shot dead two policemen at a downtown intersection around noon, said an officer in the city, who asked not to be identified, citing standard security procedures to protect the identities of police personnel.
The US military said its troops encountered insurgents near Balad, 80km north of Baghdad, early yesterday, tipping them off to the planned ambush. In the counterattack, US warplanes killed three suspected insurgents in an initial attack and 14 more in a second in conjunction with ground forces, the military said.
It said the US attacks then set off other secondary blasts among the insurgents, showing they were armed with homemade mines and other explosives.
Iraqi and US forces encircled the town of Hawija, 265km north of Baghdad, and were searching for armed men who had fired on patrols, said Brigadier Sarhat Qadir of the Kirkuk police force.