The Iraq insurgency has about ten leaders who meet occasionally both inside and outside Iraq, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, a US military spokesman said the US is holding between 12,000 and 17,000 Iraqis, insurgents, criminals and unlucky bystanders.
Lieutenant General James Conway, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed Tuesday reports quoting a former top army general as saying Iraq's insurrection was led by eight to ten figures who have held meetings both in Iraq and in neighbouring countries.
"We know who they are," retired General Jack Keane said at a Washington think tank Monday. Keane is formerly US Army deputy chief of staff, and has conducted a number of Pentagon assessment missions to Iraq.
Keane said that US forces have known about the leaders for some time, but have less understanding of the middle and lower ranks of the insurgency.
The leaders "occasionally meet - we've recorded that - not just in Iraq, but in Jordan and Syria," Keane said.
"I think those statements are accurate," Conway confirmed, while noting that the information is mostly classified secret by the Pentagon.
"We have an index we think on who the leadership is. And we do know that they occasionally meet," he said.
That information does not support "other views that it is a very well commanded or controlled insurgency," Conway added.
"But we do know that they meet from time to time to talk organization and tactics.
Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita meanwhile said that the US holds in detention in Iraq some 12000-17,000 people, "without knowing the mix between bad guys, criminals, car thieves, people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"It's going to take time to sort all that out," DiRita said.
Rumsfeld in Iraq
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Iraqi leaders to "get on with it" in preparing a new constitution Wednesday, warning that any delay would fan insurgent attacks as he made an unannounced visit to Baghdad.
He called on Iraqi leaders to draft and approve a new constitution without delay, warning that political progress was necessary for dampening the insurgency.
"Now's the time to get on with it," Rumsfeld told the travelling press as he flew in from Tajikistan for talks with Iraqi leaders and US commanders.
Any delay "would be very harmful to the momentum that is necessary."
A parliamentary committee is working to a Monday deadline to complete a draft constitution for debate by the full legislature.
Failure to meet the target would enforce a six-month postponement of a referendum tentatively scheduled for October.
Rumsfeld said he planned to raise an array of issues in his meetings here aimed at spurring the Iraqi leadership to speed up preparations for Iraq's own fledgling forces to take over responsibility for security.
He urged the Iraqi government to get tougher with Syria and Iran, and make them stop harbouring insurgents or turning a blind eye to cross-border infiltration.
"They should demonstrate that they are a big country, that they are a wealthy country, that they've been around a long time, and they don't like it."
Another task he said the Iraqi government needed to prepare for was taking over responsibility for the 15,000 detainees estimated still to be in coalition custody.
He said he would ask Iraqi officials to prepare the necessary staff and facilities.
He said the Iraqi government would also need to work on the legal status of US and other coalition forces after a constitutional government is in place.
He said that might include the extension of the UN Security Council mandate and a status of forces agreement between the governments.
He said it was vital that the Iraqi government allocate sufficient funds for Iraq's security forces so that they can replace departing coalition troops.
The commander of US forces in Iraq, General George Casey, said he believed US forces could be reduced fairly substantially if the political process and the development of Iraqi security forces continued on a positive track.
"I believe that if the political process continues to go positively and if the development of the security forces continues to go on, I do believe that we will be able to make fairly substantial reductions after these (December) elections, in the spring," he said.
Casey was speaking after talks with Rusmfeld, US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and other commanders.
Asked how long it would take before Iraqi forces could assume responsibility for security in most of Iraq, Rumsfeld said: "Oh, when we are ready.
"That's not knowable," he added.
"Life is not linear, life is not static, it is dynamic."
US military commanders hope to hand over security responsibility in phases, starting as early as next year.
More than 171,000 Iraqi security personnel have been recruited and trained so far but only a small number yet have the capacity to patrol on their own.
Rumsfeld said the speed of the process would depend on a number of factors -- the level of insurgent violence, the extent of Iranian and Syrian "efforts to destabilize the situation in Iraq," and the attitude of ordinary Iraqis.
He said he strongly opposed any deviation in the timetable for drafting and ratifying a new constitution.
"We have troops on the ground there. People get killed. And the faster they are able to proceed in an orderly way (the better).
"People are going to have to appreciate that in a constitutional process compromise is necessary,
"They are simply going to have to make the compromises necessary and get on with it."
A boycott of the drafting committee launched last week by Sunni Arab members in protest at the killing of two colleagues had raised fears that the draft would not be ready by next Monday's deadline.
But the Sunni members, most of them coopted as the disgruntled former elite largely stayed away from January elections, relented Tuesday and rejoined the committee's work.