Iraqi PM travels to Iran on 1st official visit
Iraq's prime minister made his first official visit to Iran since taking office, intending to ask Tehran to prevent al-Qaeda members there from crossing into Iraq to launch attacks, an official said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki planned to tell Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other senior officials that al-Qaeda members have been "taking advantage of the long border" to smuggle weapons and people into Iraq, said Haidar al-Obadi, a Iraqi parliament member from al-Maliki's Dawa Party.
He said the illicit crossings were "most likely without the Iranian government's knowledge."
"There are al-Qaeda members and al-Qaeda strongholds in Iran," al-Obadi told the Associated Press in Cairo, speaking by telephone from Baghdad.
"We ask Iran for co-operation in controlling the border to prevent any al-Qaeda exploitation of the border."
Al-Maliki landed in Tehran on Tuesday and received a red-carpet welcome at the presidential palace ahead of the talks with Ahmadinejad.
Iranian state-run television did not immediately provide details about their meeting. Iraqi state TV reported that the two discussed "bilateral arrangements" but did not disclose further details.
The United States accuses Tehran of harboring al-Qaeda fugitives and of not doing enough to stop militants from infiltrating into Iraq across the porous 1,600-kilometre-long border.
Iran has said that some al-Qaeda operatives may have illegally passed through Iran from Afghanistan months before militants from the group attacked in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. But Tehran says it has arrested an unknown number of them.
Ties grow after Saddam's ouster
Since Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was toppled by a U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraq has sought closer ties with Iran and to heal scars left by the 1980-88 war that killed more than one million people on both sides.
Saddam was a Sunni Muslim and his government was dominated by Iraq's Sunni minority. But the Shia Muslim majority dominated subsequent elections and Shia politicians make up the bulk of al-Maliki's coalition government.
This has led to strong ties with Iran, which is mainly Shia, and the two countries have been growing even closer, with Baghdad sealing deals in August for Tehran to provide it with gasoline, kerosene and cooking fuel amid a shortage in Iraq.
Al-Maliki spent years in Iran, Syria
Al-Maliki also spent years in Iran and Syria in exile.
An Iraqi economic delegation visited Iran just before al-Maliki to discuss further petroleum deals, including the possibility of Iranian investment in Iraq's fuel sector, said Haidar al-Obadi, another Dawa party parliamentarian.
In July 2005, former Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari made the first visit to Iran by an Iraqi premier since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam.
After Iraq held a parliamentary election in December 2005, sectarian power struggles between the politicians delayed the formation of a government for months. Al-Maliki was nominated as prime minister-designate in April 2006 and replaced Ibrahim al-Jaafari, leading a coalition government.