BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. Embassy has held indirect talks with members of violent Iraqi insurgent groups, a U.S. official said yesterday, edging back from a long-standing position not to negotiate with "terrorists' or those who have American or Iraqi blood on their hands.
"People stop shooting at us, and we - and I think the Iraqi government - are ready to engage." said the U.S. official, who spoke to a group of Western reporters on the condition of anonymity. "People willing to condemn the use of violence, particularly against the Iraqi people, we"re willing to engage."
The United States is hoping to persuade Iraq's insurgents to lay down their weapons and join the political process. But the insurgency is thought to comprise diffuse groups of fighters, and it was not clear how broad a section has been involved in the contacts with the United States.
No details on the substance of the talks were made public, and it was not clear whether they had yielded any results.
Meanwhile, bloodshed continued yesterday. An American- Iraqi offensive in Iraq's northern tip killed at least 10 militants, including four blown apart by their own car bomb, and 20 Iraqi soldiers were feared kidnapped near the Syrian border.
Four U.S. soldiers died in separate attacks north of Baghdad, the military said. One died in a roadside bombing yesterday near Adwar. Two more died in a Tuesday attack on their Tikrit base, while a fourth was killed in a bomb attack just north of the capital.
Reports of meetings between figures associated with the insurgency and U.S. officials began emerging this year, but U.S. authorities previously have declined to provide details.
U.S. military commanders in war-torn swaths of Iraq have long sent olive branches and ultimatums to militants through local tribal and religious leaders. A Pentagon official, who declined to be identified by name because of the subject's sensitivity, described those interactions as informal and insubstantial. The talks confirmed by the U.S. official in Baghdad yesterday appeared to be more formal contacts between insurgents and American diplomats, mainly using Sunni Arab political and religious figures as intermediaries.
Abdul Salaam Kubaysi, a leader of the Muslim Scholars Association, an influential Sunni Arab group, said he knew of at least three instances where figures close to the insurgency had approached the U.S. Embassy about the prospects of cutting a deal, the latest about four days ago.
More than 1,680 U.S. troops, and thousands of Iraqis, have been killed as Iraq's insurgency has raged. For months, Iraq's interim leaders have been in contact with representatives of insurgent groups, trying to bring them into the political process. But the new participation of the Americans in such talks might help convince the guerrillas that the negotiations could have substantial results.
The involvement of diplomats in indirect negotiations with insurgents may also be a signal that the United States is subtlety shifting to a more pragmatic and less rigid policy as casualties continue to mount more than two years after the invasion in March 2003.
The discussions could also indicate a new willingness on the part of guerrillas to lay down their weapons. Former Electricity Minister Iyam Samarayee, a Sunni Arab, told the Associated Press this week that the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Army of Mujahedeen, two militant groups that have claimed responsibility for attacks on Americans and kidnappings of foreigners, have approached him about the prospect of making peace with the new Iraqi government.
Indirect talks with U.S. officials started about six to eight weeks ago, said an insurgent leader in the restless, western Iraqi town of Ramadi.
"There is a secret kind of dialogue between the resistance and the Americans." said the man, known by the nickname Abu Diham. "It's done through mediators. We try to put our conditions forward to the Americans."
Among their demands are an end to U.S. troops raids" on homes, and an amnesty for fighters and release of prisoners.
As for the Americans, they say their message is that the longer the insurgents fight, the longer U.S. troops will stay.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.