A top US military spokesman called Wednesday for parts of Iraq's raging insurgency to be brought into the political process, while insisting that Al-Qaeda was being hit hard by ongoing offensives.
"We understand the capabilities, the vulnerabilities and the intentions of each group of the insurgency -- the foreign fighters, the Iraqi rejectionists and the Saddamists," Major General Rick Lynch told reporters.
"The group in the middle, the Iraqi rejectionists -- (which) includes the Shia rejectionists and the Sunni rejectionists -- we believe that deliberate outreach will allow them to participate in the political process and allow them to become part of the solution and not part of the problem," he said.
Lynch was commenting on last week's Iraqi reconciliation conference in Cairo which called for elements of the insurgency to be involved in the talks and recognized the importance of distinguishing between different factions of the resistance.
US officials had initially expressed dissatisfaction with the final statement from the Arab League-sponsored meeting which condemned "terrorism" but also spoke of "the legitimate right of people to resistance".
Lynch said that a recently concluded offensive in the country's restive western province of Al-Anbar had disrupted the Al-Qaeda in Iraq group of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi enough to allow reconstruction projects to proceed.
"We come close to Zarqawi continuously and at one point in time, in the not too distant future, we are going to get Zarqawi," he said.
In Tehran, visiting Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said that Iran was doing its utmost to stem the insurgency.
"Iran is interested in our security just as it is interested in its own security," Talabani said as he was seen off by hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"They all said one thing to me: that there are no limits to Iran's cooperation with and support for the Iraqi people and government."
Iran has often been accused of supporting insurgent attacks against US and British forces in Iraq, charges Tehran denies.
Amid increasing calls for foreign troops to quit the country, radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr urged voters in December 15 general elections to back candidates who "call for the withdrawal of foreign forces," a spokesman said.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said troop reductions could occur soon.
"The president has said that as soon as Iraqi forces are ready, we want to see a reduction in our own forces, and I think those days are going to be coming fairly soon when Iraqis are going to be more and more capable of carrying out the functions to secure their own future," Rice told Fox News Channel.
About 159,000 US troops are currently deployed in Iraq ahead of the December vote, the final stage in the political transition to democracy after the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.
Once the election is over, the number of US troops is expected to be reduced to about 138,000, a figure US defence officials refer to as the "baseline."
US authorities are eager to show a steady transfer of responsibility to the Iraqis, with regular announcements of successful joint military operations and the handover of bases.
The violence continued apace however, with the assassination of a Sunni Arab tribal leader and his four sons by gunmen dressed as Iraqi soldiers.
That attack was followed shortly afterwards by the killings of a high ranking official from the ministry of industry, Radi Ismail Jawad, and the former chief of traffic police, General Mahdi Kassem -- both in Baghdad.
Leaders from all religious and political affiliations have been regularly targeted in the strife following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.
With Saddam's trial set to resume on Monday, sources close to the Iraqi High Tribunal said they believed his defence lawyers had suspended their boycott and would attend the trial.
The defence team representing Saddam and seven former associates earlier this month vowed to stay away from the court to protest at the lack of adequate protection following the murder of two of their members.
Defence lawyers have been offered protection and the United States will take part in the investigation into the killings, said a US official close to the tribunal.