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Iraqi delegation in Iran on Shiite issue


ImageAP: An Iraqi delegation was in Iran on Friday to discuss the recent upsurge in violence in Iraq, Iran's official news agency reported.

The Associated Press


ImageTEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An Iraqi delegation was in Iran on Friday to discuss the recent upsurge in violence in Iraq, Iran's official news agency reported.

The Iranian agency, however, failed to mention that the trip comes as U.S.-backed Iraqi leaders want to pressure Iran to stop arming and training Iraq's Shiite extremists, as Washington maintains. Tehran denies that it is doing so.

Senior Shiite Iraqi politicians from the ruling United Iraqi Alliance arrived Wednesday to confront Iranian authorities with what Baghdad officials described as "sufficient evidence" of Iran's support for Iraq's militias and outlaws.

Haider al-Ibadi, a lawmaker from Iraqi prime minister's Dawa party, said Friday that the delegation visiting Tehran presented a "list of names, training camps and cells linked to Iran" but that "Iranians did not admit anything."

"They claim they are not intervening in Iraq and they promised to exert efforts to support the Iraqi government in containing the lawbreakers and to prevent the flow of weapons to Iraq," al-Ibadi told The Associated Press in Baghdad.

The IRNA news agency merely said that the Iraqis made the trip to Tehran to discuss "security issues" related to clashes between Shiite extremists and the Iraqi government and U.S. forces. It quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini as saying that the five-member Iraqi team was to discuss the "latest developments" in Iraq.

"Iranian officials will hold talks with this delegation in line with helping settle differences and ongoing clashes in Iraq," Hosseini said.

On Thursday, the Iraqi delegates met with the commander of the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps that has been accused of training and funneling weapons to the Shiite extremists in Iraq. A second meeting with the commander, Ghassem Soleimani, was expected Friday.

The Quds Force is believed to operate overseas, and is said to have helped create the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1982 and armed Bosnian Muslims during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The Iraqi delegation has documents and other material implicating the Quds Force in supplying weapons and training fighters, an Iraqi government official said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

U.S. military officials have said the evidence includes caches of weapons that have date stamps showing they were produced in Iran this year — including mortars, rockets and armor-piercing roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs.

The Bush administration has been raising its anti-Iran rhetoric as American troops in Iraq face daily clashes with Shiite militiamen. The combat helped push the U.S. military death toll in Iraq to at least 50 in April, the highest monthly toll since 65 were killed in September.

Hosseini said Iran supports its neighbor's stability and that hosting the delegation from Baghdad was "in line with the goal … of providing stability and security in Iraq."

He blamed Washington for the violence in Iraq, saying Iraq's "main problem is the presence of occupiers and terrorists." Iran has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces from Iraq, saying their presence is the root cause of instability there.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government faces a delicate challenge as it tries to maintain a relationship with its U.S. backers and neighboring Iran, a predominantly Shiite nation that has close ties to Iraq's leaders.

But al-Maliki has shown a recent willingness to crack down on Shiite militias led by the Mahdi Army as he seeks to gain political support from rival Shiite groups and minority Sunnis.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that the visit of the Iraqis to Iran was "a very important step" and that it may prompt Iranians to choose whether they "want to work with the government of Iraq or subvert" it.

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