Iraqi president seeks Iranian help in quelling spiraling violence

Monday, November 27th 2006, 7:15 am
By: News On 6

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Iraqi President Jalal Talabani sought Monday to enlist Iran's help in quelling the spiraling violence that threatens to tear his country apart.

He arrived in Tehran with a delegation of Iraqi officials and headed to Iran's Presidential Palace to meet with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose government has been trying to organize a summit joining Iran, Iraq and Syria in a bid to assert the Islamic Republic's role as a regional power broker. Iranian officials have said an invitation was extended to Syrian President Bashar Assad, but Syria has not responded, apparently to avoid embarrassing Iran with a direct rejection.

Talabani had planned to come to Tehran on Saturday but had to postpone his trip until Baghdad's airport, which was closed in a security clampdown, reopened Monday.

The Iraqi leader also is scheduled to meet Iran's former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, later Monday and Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Tuesday.

The United States has refused to negotiate with Iran and Syria to seek their support to bring stability to Iraq, accusing both Tehran and Damascus of aiding Iraqi insurgents, but President Bush has come under increasing pressure at home to engage them.

Iran is believed to back Iraqi Shiite militias blamed in sectarian killings that have killed thousands this year. Iran has repeatedly denied the allegations.

The New York Times reported Monday that a draft report by the study panel led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III recommends increased regional diplomacy, including holding talks with Iran and Syria.

Ahmadinejad has said Iran is willing to help Washington with Iraq if the U.S. drops its ``bullying'' policy toward Tehran. Iran also has made clear that it wants to exert its influence in Iraq on Tehran's terms, not Washington's.

``(Iraq's) occupiers need countries to help them get out of the quagmire,'' IRNA quoted Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as saying.

Iran is Syria's only close ally and a refusal of its summit invitation would be an unusual snub, but Damascus may be looking further down the road to potential talks with Washington.

It is the fourth visit by Talabani, who speaks fluent Farsi, since he took office. He is a member of Iraq's Kurdish minority, but he had close ties with Iranian officials before Saddam Hussein was driven out by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.