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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 June, 2005, 22:03 GMT 23:03 UK
US holds talks with Iraq rebels
Scene of a car bombing in Baghdad, Iraq
Insurgent attacks appear to be on the rise
US officials in Iraq have had talks with leaders of the anti-US insurgency, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says.

Mr Rumsfeld spoke after London's Sunday Times newspaper said that two meetings took place north of Baghdad.

Speaking on Fox News, Mr Rumsfeld said the US regularly "facilitates" meetings between Iraqi officials and insurgents.

US officials have said that the Iraq insurgency is growing, and Mr Rumsfeld admitted the revolt could last up to a dozen years.

"Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years. Foreign forces are not going to repress that insurgency," Mr Rumsfeld said.

The Sunnis need to be part of the political future. This doesn't mean we are talking with people like Zarqawi
Gen John Abizaid
US military commander
"We're going to create an environment that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces can win against that insurgency."

More than 1,000 people - mostly Iraqis - have been killed since the new government was installed in April.

President George W Bush will make a prime-time address about Iraq on Tuesday, amid growing concern about the level of US casualties.

Overblown?

Quoting Iraqi sources, the Sunday Times said insurgent commanders "apparently came face to face" with four American officials during the talks held on 3 and 13 June at a summer villa near Balad, about 40 miles (60km) north of Baghdad.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
I would not make a big deal out of it
Donald Rumsfeld
US Defence Secretary

It said the insurgents included representatives of Ansar al-Sunna, which has carried out numerous suicide bombings, as well as lesser known groups such as Mohammed's Army, the Islamic Army in Iraq and Jaish Mohammed.

Mr Rumsfeld did not confirm any details of the talks - and sought to downplay their significance.

"I would not make a big deal out of it," he told Fox News.

"Meetings go on frequently with people.

"I think the attention to this is overblown."

And Ansar al-Sunna, for its part, has denied it was involved in such contacts.

"We categorically deny that any negotiation took place between the Ansar al-Sunna Army and any crusader or apostate," said a statement allegedly by its leader, published on the internet.

"Jihad is the only way to restore dignity to this nation. Without this dignity, the nation will be shamed and defeated," the statement said.

The US military commander in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, told CBS television that Iraqi politicians and the US have regular contacts with Iraq's Sunni Arab community.

"The Sunnis need to be part of the political future. This doesn't mean that we're talking to people like [insurgent leader Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi or people that are linked to his organisation."


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